Most of the notes about a recent meeting between a minister and the shale gas industry have been redacted “in the public interest” or because they contained confidential information, a government department has said.
Information about the meeting, first publicly referred to during a parliamentary debate, was released following a Freedom of Information request.
But in its response, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published only the agenda and the first eight lines of the two-plus pages of meeting notes. Even the second half of the notes of the minister’s presentations was blanked out “in the public interest”. Redacted notes of industry meeting with Claire Perry (pdf)
BEIS also said there was no list of the industry representatives attending the meeting.
The meeting was held at lunchtime on 21 May 2018. Later that day, Ms Perry and the then housing minister, Dominic Raab appeared before a committee of MPs to answer questions on proposals to change planning rules for shale gas.
The week before, on 17 May 2018, the business and local government secretaries had released written ministerial statements about the changes. These proposed to classify non-fracking shale gas proposals as permitted development, avoiding the need for planning applications. Shale gas production schemes would become nationally-significant infrastructure projects to be decided by a Secretary of State.
Ms Perry’s meeting came to light last month when she said in a debate that she’d had “a very effective shale industry roundtable”.
This was followed up with the FOI request by Richard Bales, who lives in Ryedale, where Third Energy is still waiting to hear whether it has permission to frack at well at Kirby Misperton.
Mr Bales said:
“I was intrigued by Claire Perry’s so-pleased reference in Parliament to her ‘Shale Gas Round Table’ with Industry Operators, I made polite FOI enquiry as to what this was.
“I didn’t expect much, which is exactly what I got. They admit there was a meeting, but nobody has a list of attendees and won’t tell me what was discussed.”
Mr Bales told DrillOrDrop:
“There is an undisguised arrogance and disdain for the community evident in the Government position on shale gas and the succession of unilateral decisions that have been taken. Operators clearly have open access to lobby Ministers and their departments, whereas the public have little representation, particularly when very few MPs appear willing to place their constituents wishes ahead of their own career prospects.”
BEIS said withholding some of the information from the meeting notes was in the public interest.
It said it had used exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act on disclosure of material relating to the formulation of government policy.
In its response to Mr Bales, BEIS said:
“Whilst there is a public interest in favour of disclosing information relating to the Government’s policy, we consider that releasing this information also poses a risk to the protection of the decision-making process and the Government’s preparation of the review.
“There is a public interest in ensuring that government has a safe space to develop ideas, debate live issues, and reach decisions away from external interference and distraction, as well as ensuring that the UK can obtain the best possible outcome for our policy regarding Shale Gas extraction.
“We judge that disclosing this information would inhibit the frankness of future discussions, inhibit policy formulation and development, which would not be in the public interest. In our view, taking account of these factors, there is a strong public interest in withholding information.”
BEIS also said it had used an exemption under the act on providing confidential information. On these details, BEIS said no public interest test was required.
Mr Bales said:
“The response is clumsy, brutal and insensitive and makes no attempt to disguise the gulf which now exists between the Government and its public. It implies that transparency of decision-making is primarily to be discouraged and that the public are to be excluded from the decision-making process for their own good. It cannot be accepted.”
He has asked BEIS to carry out an internal review of its decision. He said it was “inconceivable” that a minister would hold a scheduled meeting with a formal agenda and attended by senior officials without a record being kept of attendees.
“Security alone should dictate that attendees would sign-in, with prior notification of expected attendance, to ensure that participation is limited to those with a valid invitation or reason to be there. I would suggest that insufficient attempts have been made to identify and disclose the requested information.”
He also challenged BEIS’s use of the exemptions.
“The argument used is that the public’s interest in information being disclosed for reasons of transparency and understanding of Government policy is in itself an impediment to the decision making process.
“The implication is therefore that no visibility of the decision-making process is to be allowed and that the public interest in disclosure of relevant Government process is to be continually denied.”
Mr Bales said this was not intention of the exemption in the Act. He also described the exemption on confidential information as “a catch-all response that is only justifiable if all such notes relate to input from third parties to whom disclosure would represent a breach of confidence”.
“One wonders what information might have been shared at the Round Table that was not disclosed by the WMS [Written Ministerial Statement] or in the later testimony to the Committee, at which Claire Perry made several references to Government’s intention to ‘work to eliminate distrust’.
DrillOrDrop asked BEIS to respond to these arguments. A spokesperson said:
“As the review is ongoing we will not be commenting on this at this time. More information will be available once the review is complete.”
Last month, the government advertised for a shale gas commissioner to “facilitate communication” with residents in fracking areas.
The role aimed to:
“improve local understanding of shale gas operations by directing concerned local parties to relevant and impartial fact based information”.
There is a growing list of official documents on UK shale gas development that have been redacted, unpublished or delayed.
Earlier this month, a government report revealing that shale gas extraction increased air pollution was finally published three years after its submission. Also this month, anti-fracking campaigners criticised the government for dropping questions about shale gas from a quarterly public attitudes survey.
In February 2018, it emerged that another report, which was not published, had scaled back estimates on the number of UK unconventional oil and gas sites in the 2020s. (DrillOrDrop report)
In July 2015, the government finally released a full version of the previously redacted report on the impacts of fracking in rural areas after an instruction from the Information Commissioner.
I know there are many in and around KM who do not share your view Richard. Some were open enough to say so and received significant abuse.
However, at the moment, I don’t believe I do live in an area likely to be developed for shale gas. But I have, and have relatives who still do. I do live in an area where oil extraction takes place and is likely to be expanded. The reality of this does not bother myself or my relatives.
Perhaps take a look at those in Court recently reference PNR. Did they meet the test you want to set for those not against the testing of fracking?
As I stated before, I and many others, await to see what the real pluses and minuses are whereas some others have made their decisions without that information. I suspect if all of the KM population have not been silenced, you might still find a few there.
You obviously feel the “we” is important. I give my own views and state as much. They can be ignored, but I suspect the rest of the we will make that decision for themselves.
Independent thinkers in Yorkshire. If I was a betting man, I would suspect many are awaiting to see what might be the financial benefit to them-just like they did with Sirius Minerals. The cynic in me would suggest that is why the antis wish to prevent it getting to that stage.
So you did live in a shale area Martin, but moved out.
So would I if I could!
Most people can live with an isolated conventional oil or gas well. The people of Kirkby Misperton have lived with such a gas well for 2 decades.
The problem with fracking is the sheer density of wells necessary to make it commercially viable.
The North Yorkshire County Council minerals and waste joint plan proposed up to 12 well pads per PEDL….that’s an area of just 6 miles by 6 miles, so there could a well at least every 1.5 miles in every direction. Most people, even here in Ryedale, have no understanding of the magnitude of this.
This means we could have 4 or more wells within one mile of our little village in Ryedale [not KM]
The fracking industry feel this is too restrictive, however, and have successfully lobbied government to take all “decisions” [aka approvals] in-house. The government is now “consulting” on this, but enforcing such a totalitarian measure against the wishes of the electorate will surely be political suicide.
No, I moved for other reasons, and now live next to a field just purchased by “travellers”!
A lady who lives not so far away had the same. She ended up finding a new husband to move in with, a distance away, and her property was sold for 50% of it’s value. I am keeping an eagle eye on the missus! Perhaps I should purchase some AJL shares to “hedge” the property devaluation? (joke.)
I suspect KM will end up as a means to extract a little more from a depleting gas resource, unless they hit upon something unexpected. But the lack of a quick sale for Barclays tends to point against that.
In other areas I think the number of wells will be much smaller than feared, if octopus wells could be utilised. I would call that one, you might think of it as 8 (or more). But, I accept that will not be known until tests have been done.
Because things have operated in USA a certain way, it does not mean they will operate the same in the UK. The UK oil and gas industry has demonstrated that up to now, and I see no reason for that to change. I would have thought KM has been a pretty good example of that to date.
‘No, I moved for other reasons, and now live next to a field just purchased by “travellers”!’ – this suggests it is okay for you to travel but not others? How are you more ‘important’ or ‘worthy’ to live on your plot, whilst other humans choose to live a different way on theirs?
Worried you are becoming a NIMBY….
There is a role here for the information Commissioner methinks?
You post without knowledge of the subject, again, Sherwulfe.
My son was best man at a “travellers” wedding, so like all communities, there are social and anti social elements. (As a point of information, many “travellers” do nothing of the sort, until evicted.)
Absolutely lovely family that he was best man to, unfortunately some of their guests were not, and decided to smash up the reception venue.
I made no suggestion of “worthiness”. I just explained the housing market realities. My other son was an estate agent. He could debate with you what may adjust the value of a property. If you don’t think neighbours are influential in that, then forget arguing about property values being impacted by fracking! FOE must have been telling Porkies?
Engaging the little grey cells first before you try cheap point scoring would make sure you avoid scoring own goals.
Nope; your comment was prejudicial, you cannot squirm out of it by using a story MC.
Housing market realities? [Edited by moderator]
The corporate state exposed. Thank you Richard. Unfortunately, the police have now also been compromised by the corporate state, as has our County Councils through the planning guidance they are told to follow that privileged oil and gas. We have to take back control of our own democracy from theft by the corporations.
Ahh, I see now, Sherwulfe. In your rush to virtue signal, you suggest it is okay for someone to develop a site without planning permission, infringe numerous environmental agency regulations and ignore the local democratic process. And that will not alter surrounding property values!!!!
Only in the anti reality world.
Careful, you will need to be sent for re-education before there is any more discussion on such subject surrounding the oil and gas industry.
Foot well and truly in it there-again. You obviously judged that virtue signalling was more powerful than maintaining your credibility.
Dear me Martin, your spots are showing again….pity they are not changeable.
There seems to be one rule for Martin and another for anyone else; talk about the kettle and pan.
And as for the fracking companies ‘it is okay for someone to develop a site without planning permission [the Local Councillors said no], infringe numerous environmental agency regulations [oops, forgot to mention a few things to the EA] and ignore the local democratic process [lobby Cons and backhanders]. And that will not alter surrounding property values!!!!’ – you took the words right out of my mouth.
Did you know that ‘Travellers’, aka Gypsies, were so named as the English mistakenly thought them Egyptian nobles……