Most people were not consulted by oil and gas companies about developments in the neighbourhood and the vast majority were unhappy with the industry’s approach to public engagement, according to new research.
The findings, published this morning, are from an online survey about 13 oil and gas sites in south east England by the Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor. Community_engagement_report_oil_and_gas by Keith Taylor (pdf)
The respondents were self-selecting and the total number of valid responses, at 100, was small.
But Mr Taylor said the findings “exposed a widespread problem”:
“Local people are being excluded from decisions that not only deeply affect their communities but their local environment and the planet.”
He has called on the government to require oil and gas companies to consult with local residents before drawing up drilling plans.
According to the survey:
- 77% of respondents said they were not consulted directly or indirectly by an oil or gas firm before any phase of a development
- 68% of respondents said they were not consulted directly or indirectly by an oil or gas company at any later stage
- Of the respondents who said they were consulted by an oil or gas firm, 84% said they were not given the opportunity to express their views fully
- 3% thought they were given a chance to air their views but no respondents to the survey thought their views made any difference to the development of the plans
- 95% of respondents said they were unhappy with the oil and gas firm’s approach to the public consultation process
Comments from respondents included:
“Angus have not sought my views in any way”
“I have not had the opportunity to express my views because I have had zero contact from the company concerned”
“I don’t think they care what people think”
“Exhibition was a show-piece charm offensive. Promises for further information never materialised.”
“The PR meeting was a propaganda pushing exercise. There were no facts shared around potential impact or risks”.
“My daughter spoke to the Europa rep who said he would try again to speak with myself the next day. He did not return.”
“I have seen nothing whatsoever from the company to engage with the public”
“I have received no engagement from any company either about Leith Hill or Brockham”
“Transparency and openness are dirty words”
Mr Taylor said:
“This report only serves to confirm what I, campaigners and residents across the country have long suspected: transparency and openness are dirty words in the oil and gas industry.”
“The vast majority of residents feel incredibly frustrated that the oil and gas industry in the south east has consistently failed to engage with them, even when they planned to drill a site in their community.
“Of the minority of residents that were consulted, only three thought they were offered a chance to full express their views on any planned drilling operation. No one thought it made any difference to the subsequent plans in any way.
“[The findings expose] the frustration local people feel about being excluded from decisions that not only deeply affect their communities but their local environment and the planet. It also justifies and perpetuates a perception that the oil and gas industry is ‘in bed’ with the Government and, as such, firms feel they are ‘above’ listening to the concerns of local residents.”
This is not the first time surveys have revealed dissatisfaction with the industry’s approach to public consultation.
Data provided by INEOS to Derbyshire County Council recently showed that 52% of residents near the proposed shale gas exploration site at Marsh Lane who took part in consultation activities rated the community engagement as poor or very poor. A further 20% said it was neither good nor poor.
The chairman of Surrey County Council’s planning committee has criticised Europa Oil and Gas over its public engagement about plans to drill for oil at Bury Hill Wood, near Leith Hill. The company has been criticised about a meeting last week with members of one street which would be affected by its traffic management plan. Other residents were excluded from the meeting.
The industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, launched a community engagement charter in June 2013. The organisation said its aim was to “foster open and transparent communication between industry, stakeholder groups and the communities in which we operate”.
UKOOG community charter
The charter requires UKOOG members (not listed publicly) to:
- Engage with local communities, residents and other stakeholders at each of the 3 stages of operations – exploration, appraisal or production, beginning in advance of any operations and in advance of any application for planning permission;
- Ensure there is a continued point of contact for local communities and that they provide sufficient opportunity for comment and feedback on initial plans, listen to concerns and respond appropriately and promptly;
- Have a strategy or plan for engagement which is developed early and which links to all statutory processes.
The UKOOG charter is for oil and gas developments in what are described as “unconventional reservoirs”. Exploration licences in south east England are formally described as “conventional” and are not covered by the charter commitments.
But there is a growing debate about the definitions of conventional and unconventional developments and the differences between them. Some campaigners have argued that companies describe their work as “unconventional” when talking to potential shareholders but imply they are “conventional” when speaking to local communities.
Mr Taylor said he had repeatedly offered UKOOG the opportunity to comment on the findings and answer questions about the community charter. He said the organisation had failed to respond.
Mr Taylor said he had written to the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, calling on him to introduce a mandatory requirement for oil and gas firms to consult with local residents before drawing up plans to drill in their community.
“Report does not reflect industry engagement”
Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG, told DrillOrDrop today:
“Keith Taylor’s report investigating how oil and gas firms have engaged with communities in the South East of England appears to be unclear as to the differences between conventional oil and gas extraction, which has been taking place in the South East for many decades and those that are targeted at the shale formations covered by our charter of which there are none in the South East.
“As a previous councillor Mr Taylor will be aware of the differences between conventional and unconventional as detailed by several Minerals Planning Authorities. Many of the sites identified in his report have been in operation for many years or have long standing planning permissions that were granted long before our charter was published.
“Our industry is committed to fostering open and transparent communications between operators and the communities in which we operate. We feel that this report does not accurately represent the extent to which our members engage with their local communities. Mr. Taylor bases his assumptions on responses from 100 residents even though he targeted residents living around 13 sites. This is a very small unrepresentative sample. We also note that 42% of the respondents identify as being associated with a community or campaign organisation.
“The planning process in the UK demands that residents are notified of companies’ intentions and lay down a precise process for consultation with communities. In 2017 our members held open days and public exhibitions alongside complying with the stringent planning process. Mr Taylor has unfortunately made his opposition to our industry very public on many occasions. Given the shortcomings of his ‘research’ it is unsurprising that we did not engage any further with it.”
75% of the responses were about five sites in Surrey and West Sussex: Leith Hill/Bury Hill Wood (Europa); Broadford Bridge (Kimmeridge Oil and Gas/UKOG); Balcombe (formerly Cuadrilla, now Angus Energy); Brockham (Angus Energy); Markwells Wood (UKOG).
Most respondents (63%) were from the RH postcode area in Surrey. Another 15% were from the PO postcode in West Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Of respondents who said there had been company consultation, 20% learned of development plans through a meeting between the firm and a local official body, such as a parish council. 10% were given an opportunity to attend a staff exhibition. 9% received a letter from the firm.
42% of respondents belonged to a community or campaign group.
69% of respondents were aware of the firm that held the licence for the site about which they were commenting.
Responses to key questions
- Did the firm consult you and your neighbours directly or host any community engagement events prior to any phase of the development?
77% No; 11% Yes; 12% Don’t know
- Did the firm consult you and your neighbours directly or host any community engagement events at any later stage?
68% No; 12% Yes; 20% Don’t know
- If the firm undertook any form of engagement, do you feel you had the opportunity to fully express your views?
84% No; 3% Yes; 13% Don’t know
- Of those who said there had been consultation
20% said the firm had met an official body; 10% said the firm arranged a staffed exhibition, 9% received a letter through the door, 6% attended a public meeting, 5% said the firm had met a community group; 4% spoke to a representative on the doorstep.
- If you have been consulted, do you feel like your views made any difference to the plans as they developed?
71% said they weren’t consulted; 29% said No
Mr Taylor said the online survey was available from Friday 15 December to Thursday 25 January. It was promoted in the areas around 13 oil and gas sites in south east England.
Updated at 3pm on 19 February 2018 with UKOOG statement