An oil company has banned members of a community information group from taking part in protests about its exploration site.
Egdon Resources formed a community liaison group for people living around its well at Biscathorpe, near Louth, in Lincolnshire.
But before the first meeting members were, unusually, asked to sign “terms of reference”, including an undertaking that they would not protest about the site.
One local farmer who refused to sign has been told she can no longer attend the group.
Community liaison groups (CLGs) have been established to share information about recent activity at several oil and gas sites in Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and West Sussex, sometimes as a condition of the planning permission.
None of the members of these CLGs contacted by DrillOrDrop have been asked to sign anything similar to the Egdon Resources “terms of reference” document.
The CLG for Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site near Blackpool has several regular protesters among its participants. A member of the Misson Springs CLG for an IGas site in Nottinghamshire is an active protester. Participants of the Tinker Lane CLG, for another IGas site in Nottinghamshire, include both opponents and supporters of shale gas.
Usually, the terms of reference are drawn up by the group members or by a local authority. At the Misson Springs CLG, the terms were prepared by Nottinghamshire County Council as part of a section 106 planning agreement.
“No protest or disruption”
In contrast, the “terms of reference” for the Biscathorpe CLG were drawn up by Egdon Resources. The document required members to sign an undertaking:
“Not to incite violence or protest which disrupts the operation of the group or endangers the operation of the site or its personnel.”
The document said:
“Any member in breach of the above agreement will be asked to leave the group”.
“Egdon reserves the right to disband the group if it becomes apparent that it is no longer effective as a medium for the open sharing of information about the Biscathorpe operation or in the event that the site is restored.”
Mathilda, who farms land adjoining the Biscathorpe well site, said local people were invited to volunteer to join the CLG. She told DrillOrDrop:
“I put my name forward because I wanted to find out what was going on.
“Before the first meeting, I received a document to sign, containing terms and conditions. All of them really upset me.
“At the meeting, we were sitting around a table. I was opposite the chief executive.
“The meeting started with an introduction from the public relations lady, who asked whether we were happy to sign the document.”
“Everyone else signed. But I said ‘I am not’.”
Since then, Egdon has passed over the chair of the CLG to a local resident.
“It was suggested to me that I was not really welcome any more. I was told it was not appropriate for me to be there.
“I had planned to go with my own terms of reference. I wanted to be there to speak to the chair. But I’ve been told I will not be invited back to another meeting.”
Rachel Smith, who coordinated the Biscathorpe CLG, told DrillOrDrop:
“The Community Liaison Group has been established to provide a conduit between Egdon and the community so that information about the drilling operation can be shared and questions answered. The meetings will also provide an opportunity for CLG members to have tours of the site and speak to experts in various specialisms.
“The CLG must be a safe and secure forum, therefore the terms of reference for the CLG asks members to commit to a code of conduct.
“One such request is: ‘Not to incite violence or protest which disrupts the operation of the group (the CLG) or endangers the operation of the site or its personnel.’
“Health, safety and security of the CLG and the site and personnel is the highest priority, so this clause, among the others, was accepted by all members of the group, except for one, as a reasonable request.”
Mathilda said she, and the local opposition group, SOS Biscathorpe, have continued to protest against Egdon’s operations at the site, where work to drill an exploration well began just after Christmas.
“What does Egdon have to hide?”
Elizabeth Williams, a campaigner who has opposed Egdon through the planning system and at protests, said:
“I’d personally like to challenge the discrimination that suggests that protestors will incite violence or endanger the operation of the site. As a member of SOS Biscathorpe, I’d stress that our bottom line is “do no harm” to anyone on either side of the site gates.
“It is a shocking indication of the disproportionate power the oil and gas industry wields. Egdon’s claims to transparency and inclusivity are given the lie here. What do they have to hide?”