Former MP Natascha Engel appointed shale gas commissioner

natascha engel

The pro-fracking former Labour MP, Natascha Engel, is the new commissioner for shale gas, the government announced this afternoon.

Ms Engel initially opposed fracking when Ineos announced plans to explore for shale gas in the village of Marsh Lane in her constituency in January 2017.

She later visiting shale gas sites in Pennsylvania and switched sides in the debate. Within months, she lost her seat in the general election to the Conservative, Lee Rowley, who opposed fracking in the constituency. It was the first time the area was held by the Conservatives since 1935.

Natascha Engel office

Natascha Engel’s constituency office in January 2017. Photo: DrillOrDrop

After leaving parliament, Ms Engel was commissioned by Ineos to write a leaflet on shale gas (DrillOrDrop report) but, 10 months on, the document does not appear to have been made publicly available.

On Monday, Ms Engel was on the panel for a fringe meeting hosted by the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), at the Conservative Party conference.

Today’s announcement was welcomed by the industry and met with disbelief by opponents of fracking in her former constituency.

“Link with communities”

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the commissioner would be a link between local communities, the shale gas industry and regulators. She would be a contact point for residents, listening to concerns and helping to improve communications, it said.

Ms Engel said:

“If extracted safely, shale gas has the potential to be a new, domestic source of energy for the UK. But there is a need for clear, impartial information to be provided to all parties and, in particular, those local communities most affected by shale gas development.

“As the commissioner for shale gas, I look forward to working closely with communities, regulators and industry to ensure facts are easily accessible as the process of shale exploration continues to develop.”

The energy minister, Claire Perry, said:

“It’s important we get the facts straight on shale gas and that communities can access the best scientific information when engaging with the developers and regulators.

“This new role will provide a single point of contact for local residents to get the information they need and have their questions answered.”

The commissioner will work with shale gas regulators but does not have a regulatory role or powers of enforcement.

“Beggars belief”

People opposing Ineos plans at Marsh Lane expressed astonishment about Ms Engel’s appointment this evening.

David Kesteven, of Eckington Against Fracking, said:

“I cannot believe this. There is a lot of mirth in the area this evening.

“The shale gas commissioner should be an important position.

“I would have thought they could have found someone with technical knowledge or scientific background, rather than a failed politician.

“But Natascha Engel doesn’t have the technical knowledge of fracking. She has destroyed the Labour Party locally. She has betrayed her constituents by going against Labour policy on shale gas.

“It seems as if they have got Natascha Engel because they could not get anyone else. It beggars belief that they could have chosen her.”

Regulator group

Also today, the government announced the formation of a Shale Environmental Regulator Group. This brings together the Oil and Gas Authority, Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency in what is described as “a virtual body”.

BEIS said:

“The Shale Environmental Regulator Group will act as one, coherent, single face for local authorities and industry, helping to resolve regulatory issues on sites and sharing best practice with local authorities considering shale gas applications.”

“Addresses concerns”

Ken Cronin, of UKOOG, said:

“Research has shown that local communities find it difficult to traverse the very strict regulatory structure we have in this country, which involves five separate bodies.

“The announcement today addresses the concerns they have raised and will provide them with important independent access to information about our industry. We look forward to working with both the regulatory body and the Commissioner.”

This post will be updated with further reaction.

31 replies »

    • Arse and Elbow spring to mind

      ‘ the very strict regulatory structure we have in this country’

      The HSE did not pay any site visits whilst the Becconsall site was being shut down.

      That gave Cuadrilla full control. The same Cuadrilla who caused earthquakes and damaged the well at Preese Hall.

      Very strict and thorough.

  1. Perhaps she will be too busy to post on Drill or Drop anymore?
    No more headers and footers?
    Perhaps someone else can purchase the option? It was getting stale and irrational anyway, it needs some fresh air, and maybe a fumigation, come to think of it, where do I send the cheque?
    I can hardly wait?
    The first of many…..

    • Am afraid with her track record she will not get any Con-verts unless she has a large wad of cash in her wallet…….

  2. “It is important we get the facts straight on shale gas.”
    That’s a good idea Ms Perry.
    You should have done some very urgent catching up before giving the go ahead for fracking. Lancastrians have been researching this industry every day for 8 years.
    Have you visited the Preston New Road area and spoken to the residents and people at the roadside? Might be a good idea and you might learn some facts.

    “If extracted safely shale gas has the potential” … etc etc
    oh well, Ms Engel.
    We’ve met that hopecasting puff for years. Nothing new there.

    “… local communities find it difficult to traverse the very strict regulatory structure ..”
    That’s rather patronising Mr Cronin.
    Communities are now very experienced actually. They draw on wide talents and thorough research and are able to carve through the obfuscation and deceit and the buck-passing.

    • You are so right Muriel. The knowledge and expertise within the protector’s circles is phenomenal. As you say 8 years of research into the profit-over-people driven fracking industry, learning from the experience of fracked communities and pouring over scientific studies conducted in those countries who have fracked their environment to pieces leaves us with concrete reasons to oppose whatever the desperate industry can dredge up to support its case.

  3. I’m afraid Ms Engel has zero credibility. A former Labour MP that lost a long standing Labour seat because she was pro fracking to an anti fracking Conservative and that is now working for a Conservative government, is not an impressive track record. And given those that support fracking frequently complain on this site about politicians taking decisions on fracking and that so called experts should be employed instead, well it seems to me we all have got the worst of all worlds here. No doubt Ms Engel, who I believe has also been employed by INEOS, will be seen as nothing more than an industry cheerleader. A non expert and a rejected politician seems a very poor choice.

    • It’s claimed she was originally anti fracking but changed her mind following a visit to Pennsylvania. Could this be the same flying visit that Ineos arranged for Kevin Hollinrake? At the last ellection, she was beaten by Lee Rowley, an anti fracking Conservative. It would appear she lost her seat because of her stance on fracking since NE Derbyshire has not previously had a Conservative win since 1932. After losing her seat she took a job as an advisor with Ineos. She was also one of the speakers at the recent fringe meeting on fracking organised by the oil and gas companies at last week’s Conservative conference.
      Given her obvious ultra pro fracking credentials and associates it is difficult to imagine she could be impartial in her dealings with local communities. It’s also probable that there will be a certain amount of personal animosity to Lee Rowley who is attempting to demonstrate the serious error the Conservatives are making in continuing with their fracking obsession. I think we can make our own mind up about why she has been chosen for the job.

  4. This does seem to be a very confusing one for late on Friday.

    A ‘virtual body’ called the ‘Shale and Gas Regulator Group’ is created that appears to comprise of three members with no information on it’s control/purpose or remit other than ‘helping to resolve regulatory issues on sites and sharing best practices’. Is it simply liaison between the OCG, EA & HSE?

    Then we have hints that there are five regulatory bodies (as yet unnamed) by Ken Cronin of the OCG. Yet the OCG itself appears to be a public limited company with zero remit on any safety regulations and appears to have a prime strategy of maximising profit/output/capability from the UKs gas resources.

    So, assuming the OCG is not ‘helping to resolve regulatory issues on site’, what are the three other regulatory bodies that are not in the Shale and Regulator Group that perhaps should be there? Maybe the Royal Geological Society for seismicity, gas and water resources? Maybe the Police? Maybe Fire and Rescue’? Maybe these bodies should be involved in ‘helping to resolve safety regulations on site’?

    Haven’t we been down this path before today? Something to do with not having the fire and rescue,police and LCC not involved in ‘resolving regulatory issues’ on the PNR site?

    Maybe it should be just virtual regulations to accompany virtually none existant regulatory bodies.

    • Hi Richard

      Our guess for the five is:

      Local Authority

      These are the bodies that have to issue some kind of licence or approval before work can go ahead. Others, such as English Nature, Highways Agency, emergency services, British Geological Survey can object to proposals, but don’t issue licences.

      • I thought regulations and regulating as well as licences were the concepts…

        But the OGA is the public limited company just owned by the BEIS and they are not responsible for anything other than issuing licences and maximising recoverability etc. The only regulation is to grab as much as possible as far as I can see. Nothing to do with safety, suitability etc. But then there’s the anomaly as to what Greg Clarke’s responsibilty/authority is…?…

        Then we have UKOOG which seems to be an organisation that has no remit but just describes onshore gas exploration and mentions other bodies responsible for regulations. This department appears to be a real entity but wih no meaningful responsibilities in life.

        Oil and gas UK that appears to be another company with associates website that updates legislation but only for offshore?

        I assume that the Mineral Planning Authority is a virtual role? Is this role handled by the local authorities whoever they might be? Is this role also handled by DECC? Is this a role to be soon relinquished by local authorities as exploratory drilling will be permitted with no permission needed? I’m sure Natasha will be able to advise once we can contact her via e-mail…

        The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) also appears to be involved, is not virtual and has planning guidelines with respect to the Mineral Planning Authority- that according to UKOOG. Maybe it is this department, that is not virtual, that should therefore assume the virtual role of the Shale and Gas Regulator Group? It has produced and presumably maintains a document entitled ‘Planning Practice Guidance for onshore oil and gas. A single issue date of July 2013. As typical of government documents, no change records and concept of issue numbers to ensure maintainability. This document indicates that DECC is responsible for monitoring seismic activity as well as consent for flaring and venting. Presumably DECC (now BEIS?) does not have to monitor the venting and flaring. Apparently the EA then checks that operation. It does state that BEIS is responsible for monitoring seismic activity. That implies BEIS wll be there to check and verify the downhole microseismic monitoring? Oh and the surface geophone array for monitoring? Is that in place? Are they monitoring that?

        And ‘Hazardous Substance Authorities’ are involved, not sure who they are and when they are involved…

        Then there’s the Coal Authority and Natural England…

        No need to have water authorities (ie plcs) to check with them …? … Pipelines and reservoirs, like coal seams might be deemed of some importance…

  5. Hmmm, clearly the public does not seem to have much trust in virtual bodies and virtually none existant safety regulations. The crowd funder for attempting to resolve safety procedure regulations at PNR is now over £6000 to its £10,000 target after one day.

    Maybe it will be a little difficult for ‘Natasha Engel’ to be a personal contact point for all residents. Maybe easier to just provide clear and impartial advise to just the virtual regulators.

  6. The photo above of Natascha Engel’s former constituency office taken in January 2017 shows a “No Fracking Way !” poster. This was in line with a decision of her Constituency Labour Party taken in mid-2016 which contained 8 major points against fracking and called for its banning. It was passed without any votes or voices against it and in her presence. The fracking threat in her former Constituency comes from the firm INEOS who now have permission to engage in explority drilling just three or less miles away from her former constituency office, as their first stage towards fracking in the area. It is also of interest that she earlier signed an Early Day Motion attacking INEOS for its anti-trade union actions at Grangemouth in 2013 as shown here – https://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/1046 I don’t know whether the Government and INEOS are aware of her earlier Corbyn-type actions or whether they care.

  7. I’d like to know how much community engagement she did in Pennsylvania, or did she just get a show round by the oil and gas companies. There are 28 anti-fracking groups in Pennsylvania and a long list of proven health and environment risks. A poor pawn in Tory marketing again!!

    • A couple who live 5 miles away from the Third Energy site at Kirby Misperton, who said they were originally neutral about fracking, decided to undertake the same trip to Pennsylvania as the Ineos sponsored trip taken by Kevin Hollinrake in order to make up their own mind. They spent seven days visiting the same places and the same people plus others not visited by Mr Hollinrake on his shorter trip. They hoped to be reassured. However they returned with many concerns and said they could see no upside to fracking and they would now not consider moving to Kirby Misperton or anywhere in Ryedale.
      I would not be at all surprised if Ms Engel was treated to the same carefully stage managed trip that Ineos provided for Kevin Hollinrake. After all she ended up working for Ineos.

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