investigation

Diary of a shale gas commissioner

Natascha Engel diary extract

Extract of diary of Natascha Engel’s appointments as shale gas commissioner. Source: FOI response from Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The shale gas commissioner, Natascha Engel, who resigned last night, had more than twice as many appointments with business than residents, according to government records. But we won’t know what she discussed with fracking companies because she reportedly deleted emails and meeting notes.

Ms Engel was appointed on 1 October 2018 as a “point of contact with residents” to “listen to their concerns, refer them to relevant and factual research and help improve communication with regulation and industry”.

But government records, provided to DrillOrDrop, show that just 10% of her appointments in the first five months of her role were with residents.

More than a quarter of her appointments in that time were with business, including oil and gas operators. Nearly a fifth of meetings were with politicians and government departments.

Ms Engel has told Greenpeace Unearthed that she destroyed industry emails and meeting notes (see Deleted emails and notes)

In her resignation letter, she accused ministers of killing off the shale gas industry by failing to relax regulations on earth tremors caused by fracking. Full report

What did the shale gas commissioner do?

190404 Natascha Engel smaller

Natascha Engel, speaking at an industry seminar on 4 April 2019. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) employed Ms Engel on a rate of £500 per day for 96 days’ work a year.

It told DrillOrDrop that records of her meetings and phone calls were available only for the first five months of her appointment, up to the end of February 2019. The details were not a complete hour-by-hour record, BEIS said. Shale Gas Commissioner diary (pdf)

But based on the information provided by BEIS, our analysis shows that Ms Engel had just 21 meetings or events with residents or local groups, representing 10% of the total appointments.

This compares with 39 appointments with the fracking industry (18%), 18 with other businesses and 18 with the media (both 8%).

The diary reveals that she had 16 appointments with BEIS (7%), 16 with national politicians and six with local politicians.

According to the entries, more than half of her appointments (135) were in London, where there are no oil and gas exploration licences. In December 2018, Ms Engel appeared to have had just one appointment outside London.

During the five months of the diaries, she had 21 appointments (10% of the total) in or about Lancashire, the only location where fracking was being carried out during her period in office.

She had just four appointments in Nottinghamshire, where there are two shale gas exploration sites. Local representatives living near the IGas site at Misson had 20 minutes’ notice that Ms Engel wished to meet them.

24 appointments were said to be in or about Sheffield, where there are no sites and currently no active proposals for shale gas development.

There are no appointments listed in North Yorkshire, where Third Energy is waiting for the go ahead to frack at Kirby Misperton. According to correspondence seen by DrillOrDrop, Ms Engel said she would meet the Kirby Misperton community liaison group. But she did not get back in touch after she was sent some possible dates.

The diary entries also list appointments in or about Dagenham, Darlington and Cardiff, where there are no shale gas licences.

Who did she meet?

Natascha Engel DoD

Natascha Engel, the government’s shale gas commissioner, pictured (centre) with panellists at a meeting in Malton, 11 October 2018. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The diaries do not say which individuals or companies Ms Engel met. There are fewer details for more recent entries than the ones at the start of her time as shale gas commissioner. But the diaries do reveal that she met a wide range of different organisations.

Royal Society Royal Academy report

According to the entries, she had seven appointments with the Royal Society, which wrote a report in 2012 about the risks of shale gas fracking. It is currently reviewing more recent literature on the issue. As well as this, she had phone calls and meetings with unspecified scientists and academics.

She also had five appointments with the British Geological Survey, which records seismicity and another five with the water industry.

She had 11 appointments with regulators. Of these, two were listed as being with the Oil & Gas Authority, which regulates licensing and seismicity. Three appointments were with the Environment Agency and another with the Shale Environmental Regulators’ Group, which liaises with shale gas companies.

With the media, she had one meeting with the BBC and appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show. She had appointments with local radio, television and newspapers, including an interview with a free magazine in Dronfield, south Yorkshire.

Two appointments in December 2018 were described as with “bloggers” and “journalists”. Ms Engel did not do an interview with DrillOrDrop, despite nine separate requests.

She attended an event at the Science Media Centre in London in January 2019. Later that month, two geologists, Dr Brian Baptie and Dr Ben Edwards, used the venue for a press conference at which they called for the threshold on fracking tremors to be raised.

Ms Engel also had a meeting, which included a minister and the industry, to talk about BBC coverage. This was around the time of tremors caused by fracking by Cuadrilla at Preston New Road, near Blackpool.

Ms Engel attended five seminars or conferences, including the Conservative Party Conference on her first day. But in the five months of the diaries she appears to have attended just one public meeting, which was in Malton, North Yorkshire, in her first fortnight.

She had a meeting with the CLA (Country Land and Business Association) and another with a group described only as “landowners”. There were two entries for meetings with church groups, another with the WI and one with the police in Preston.

There appears to be just one meeting with an opposition group, described on 31 October 2018 as “Frack Free group”. In February 2019, she had a phone call with campaigners and talked to young people at a strike for climate protest.

Other appointments include:

  • Regeneration meeting about Dagenham car plant (first week)
  • Conference at a college of further education in Derby
  • Meeting with the Department of Transport
  • Meeting with parliamentary clerks
  • Round table with housebuilders
  • Heathrow 3rd Runway community engagement meetings
  • AFC Fylde Foundation (sponsored by Cuadrilla)
  • Durham student event
  • Offshore oil and gas decommissioning
  • Windfarms community engagement
  • Local civic group in Hounslow
  • British Ceramics Confederation

Deleted emails and notes

Greenpeace Unearthed asked Ms Engel for all her email communication with two leading fracking companies, Cuadrilla and Ineos, for whom Ms Engel previously worked.

Alex Thomson, of Channel 4 News, tweeted this morning that Ms Engel provided a handful of emails in response to the request. But there were no communications covering 5 October and 30 December 2018, he said.

Mr Thomson said Ms Engel responded to Greenpeace:

“I tend to deal with everything on the day and delete what has been done to avoid any huge build-ups or risk of duplication.

“The same is true of the few notes I take in meetings which I review in the evenings, action and throw away”.

Ms Engel later defended her actions.

“I have not routinely destroyed my correspondence, what I’ve done is answered correspondence and deleted anything that I don’t .”

Civil servants under their code are required to “keep accurate official records and handle information as openly as possible within the legal framework”.

Ms Engel did not have a government email address and was not a civil servant.

She was, however, employed by BEIS. A response to a separate FOI request confirmed that she was one of 18 applicants for the post, four of whom were interviewed and two deemed suitable.

She was appointed for a two-year-term and her rate of pay was open to review.

The diaries provided to DrillOrDrop, do not record how long she worked each day. But they do indicate that in the first five months in post, she had worked at some time on 86 days, 10 days short of her annual contracted total.

She would have been due to have her first half-yearly review at the end of March 2019.

BEIS said Ms Engel did not need day-to-day supervision. There were also no restrictions on other posts she could undertake when she not working for BEIS “if the post-holder has time to do the role effectively and is not conflicted.”

Ms Engel runs a PR consultancy, Palace Yard Communications, formed in July 2017. The company’s first set of accounts are due by 5 July 2019.

Comment

DrillOrDrop invited BEIS, the industry organisation, UKOOG, and the support group, Lancashire for Shale, to comment on the balance of Ms Engel’s appointments and reports that she deleted emails. None have responded.

35 replies »

  1. “Ms Engel was not a civil servant” may be a clue.

    Yep, agree. The media coverage is interesting. Perhaps they needed a new perspective on the subject, and now they can avail themselves of it. Nice media coverage of Sir Jim in the sports section as well today. I particularly liked the following reference:

    “It is a great virtue of a private company, Jim often jokes, that neither a masterplan nor slide-by-slide logic need be explained, much less justified, to the public.”
    Antis still having difficulty with that!

    • Quick! All anti antis!

      There is an opportunity for the new shale gas commissioner….No engineering or science qualifications or any competence at all required! In fact that would disqualify your application….

      Ideal for the armchair fracker!

      And you can supply your own sour hot gas! Empty irrelevant irrational obsessional memes and Oops! (copyright) Are compulsory!

      But must be deleted before anyone can read it!

      But then of course we will have to wait nine times before you reply to anything on Drill or Drop because your diary will be so full of deleted imaginary entries with fantasy friends and relatives…..

      Will you fly or take the train?

      Oops! (copyright)

      When growing your Monaco sprouts just to absorb all that fracking produced CO2 though, beware of the methane backdraught, it can be climate changing and a bit pongy for the imaginary neighbours!

    • ‘“Ms Engel was not a civil servant” may be a clue.’
      Indeed it is. Pity I only have time to speed read this stuff. It still begs the question – who was paying Ms Engel? If BEIS employed her and were paying her with taxpayers money, then surely she was a public servant and subject to relevant scrutiny and the requirements of the FOI act. If she was being paid by the industry, that would clearly affect any pretence of impartiality, so I’d be interested to know. I’m not aware that this info has been made publicly available – is it a secret? Was it legitimate and acceptable to destroy records if she was employed by BEIS, but the money came from industry – thus implying it was a deliberate act? In terms of being open and honest, is it acceptable for a govt dept to have shady, underhand and secretive arrangements where FOI can be avoided?

  2. And while the U.K. dithers the rest of the world is getting on with providing cleaner energy.

    From the Telegraph today, “The dawning of a new golden age for gas is driven by growing energy demand in Asia and for cleaner fuels globally. It is a trend that has mobilised nations and the world’s largest energy companies … A senior executive at Shell, said demand for LNG in Asia grew beyond expectations again last year. “China’s success in making the air cleaner for millions of people shows the critical role that natural gas can play in providing more and cleaner energy. “”

    Also in the news, in India the government has set out ambitious goals for focusing on household electrification and reliable power supply. India’s economy is growing at 6% a year but 43 million Indian households are yet to be electrified. And having an electricity connection does not guarantee electricity access. Fifty per cent of electrified rural households do not receive even 12 hours of supply a day.

    Sorry but renewables will only meet a small part of this demand so what do we wish the India government to choose as their baseload supplier, coal, nuclear, wood chips or natural gas?

    • We have been here before, China’s green energy revolution was dependent upon temporary reliance on fossil fuels in order to get to a totally renewable energy basis and get out of the fossil fuel trap. India have the same intention but are trapped with a coal based energy monopoly. Their excuse for coal and gas, if you can call it an excuse, is that fossil fuels are a step towards renewable resources. China and India have vast populations and many of them are in poverty survival mode, and their governments can trash them at will and impose anything they wish upon them.

      UK have no such excuse, we are a well educated closely populated demographic, and we could have transformed to renewable energy resources decades ago.

      Gas and oil are only still prevalent in UK because of the governments controllers and paymasters are the big oil and gas corporations and they call the shots, which is why renewable energy resources are marginalised and disincentivised and starved of investment and research by this government.

      The present inertia on fossil fuels in UK are a political imperative, not an energy imperative and that has to stop.

      During her speech on climate change Claire Perry was asked if the ban on onshore wind farms would be lifted, her reply was that “some areas are not suitable for wind power” . But apparently the same condition does not apply to fossil fuel extraction.

      Solar panels had an increase in taxes of 800% to dis-incentivise solar panels on every roof, the green initiatives for insulation and to incentivise green energy solutions and the green bank were compromised and trashed by this government. The Swansea Tidal Energy project was deliberately fumbled and trashed by this government because tidal is a constant energy resource and would be a contender for further competition to fossil fuels. Hence the project was deliberately crushed.

      This government became politically minoritised in the last elections, and the only party that they would form a coalition with was the Northern Irish right wing extremist DUP who were the only other party that would support fracking.

      It has only been the referendum result to part from the EU that has separated the DUP coalition support for this government over border restrictions and rights to travel.

      Sheer hypocrisy and a clear indication that there will be no movement on intelligent forward looking renewable energy in this country under this government.

      The solution to that is simple, change this government and we can at last get out of the fossil fuel stranglehold and move towards a sane renewable energy resources future.

      https://www.energycentral.com/c/ec/chinas-green-energy-revolution-has-saved-country-catastrophic-dependence-fossil

      It is no longer the case that renewable energy resources cannot meet the requirements in the UK, it is that at present we do not have a government that is capable or willing or committed enough to even consider the transition in anything other than empty gestures and promises and even emptier rhetoric.

      Cue the cynical recidivists…..

      [Typos corrected at poster’s request]

      • “extremist DUP who were the (not) other party that would support fracking.” Typo there, I shouldn’t type so fast!

        That should read “extremist DUP who were the (only) other party that would support fracking.”

        Could that be changed please?

        Thanks

        • From Greenpeace.

          “Unearthed report”

          “The climate emergency debate, UK climate advisors report today, but it’s also an even bigger week for news about nature – with the scientists meeting in Paris to finalise the details of the first major report in more than a decade on the destruction of nature and what it means for humanity. Many argue it’s every bit as serious, and as urgent as climate change – but far less discussed.”

          “Breaking on Unearthed: “As dangerous as climate change”
          The destruction of nature may be as big a threat to humanity as climate change, but we’re talking about it far less. Life Support is a 4-part video series about some of the incredible things the natural world does for us, and therefore why the global nature crisis matters for every human on the planet. In part 1 we hear from the former head of the IPCC and current chair of IPBES – the sister organisation monitoring biodiversity – along with George Monbiot and renowned scientist Professor Sebsebe Demissew who questions notions of costing nature.”

          “Spain’s socialist win could herald green new deal: Climate Home reports that Spaniards threw their weight behind a Green New Deal programme on Sunday, after re-electing the pro-climate Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) which campaigned on a sweeping platform of ecological transition. Notably, the PSOE gained votes in coal mining regions where it has struck a major deal to shut the industry down. In October, the government agreed with unions and the industry that €220m will be injected into mining regions over the next decade, boosting retirement schemes and retraining. Prior to the election, the PSOE had proposed one of the world’s most aggressive climate laws. The legislation committed the government to slash greenhouse emissions to 90% of 1990 levels by 2050, ban fracking and end subsidies for fossil fuels.”

          “LA (also) backs green new deal – and calls for phase out of petrol cars: Mayor Eric Garcetti’s sustainability plan imagines a city where, by the mid-2030s, 80% of the cars run on electricity or zero-emission fuel, 80% of the electricity comes from renewable sources and Angelenos drive 2,000 fewer miles each year than they do now. Notably the project includes plans for 28,000 publicly available electric-vehicle chargers by 2028 — up from 2,100 today — with the city streamlining permitting for chargers, expanding rebate programs and requiring more chargers through the building code.”

          “UK Government advisors to recommend net-zero by 2050: The UK’s chief advisory body on climate change will recommend the government legislates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 – an even more ambitious target than Spain. The issue of climate change will take centre stage in the House of Commons on Wednesday when Labour will hold a so-called opposition day debate to push the government to do more to tackle global warming and to protect biodiversity around the planet. It comes as the Welsh Assembly moves to declare it’s own climate emergency in the hope of triggering a wave of policy action.”

  3. Well, if you believe that load of misinformation you will also believe red diesel is red to separate it from vegetable oil!!

    Suggest you do your own research if you want to be informed, folks. When someone suggests they know the intentions of China and India you can recognise that there is a problem.

    Rather than mythical “intentions” are China not currently EXPORTING hundreds of coal fired power stations, many being built at this very moment? How about all those “intentions” signed up to in Paris-all going well? US/China trade talks resume today. Suspect if they succeed the “intention” will be to trade more green goods?

    • Oops! (copyright)

      Someone doesn’t like to be contradicted with supported evidence do they?

      Have you noticed ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, that all the anti antis antics reflect the same cynical status quo attitude that greed avarice and stupidity are the only elements that are bandied about as any sort of justification for fracking these days?

      And in spite of all that has ocurred these last two weeks, childtens school stike for climate, XR, Greta and Anna in London talking to those MP’s who could be bothered to attend, government talks on the climate change emergency, reports that many other countries and regions are doing the same, China moving towards renewables faster than the US, India beginning at leadt to tecognise its problems with its coal monopoly.

      But these people who podt these endless “oh its all hopeless, nothing can be done” attitude, have no possibility to contemplate forwards thinking and transformation to a saner intelligent responsible attitude towards this planet earth, its the only one we have, so we had better look after it.

      They continually state that there is no room for natural evolution and progress or improvement out the climate change trap we find ourselves in.

      No possibility or allowance for evolution of peoples aspirations and capabilities towards a better natural symbiosis with the planets ecosystems out of this poisonous mess we have allowed ourselves to be taken into.

      Just this bone crushing insistent stultifying wet blanket approach that seeks to crush anything that looks forward to an intelligent sane and sustainable future for us all and future generations to come.

      Why do you think that is?

      Could it be that any effort to dig this poor benighted planet out of the poisonous exploitative and control freakery recidivist inertia is a threat to these peoples rice bowls and efforts to keep things precisely where they are under their thumb thankyou very much?

      Could it be that keeping everyone and everything exactly as it is, is what this entire effort to trash and marginalise any forwards progress towards a world where our children and their children are no longer slaves to this soul crushing jealously protected inertia.

      That this fossil fuel kakistocracy only seeks to maintain its control over every aspect of our energy resources and exclude any chance of any competition?

      Doesn’t competition enhance and speed progress?

      Let’s see what is said to justify that shall we?

      “Well, if you believe that load of misinformation you will also believe red diesel is red to separate it from vegetable oil!!
      Suggest you do your own research if you want to be informed, folks. When someone suggests they know the intentions of China and India you can recognise that there is a problem.”

      Dear me! What a display?

      Unfortunately that entire obsessional discredited empty meme rant only reflects that there is no constructive argument to substantiate any of the claims, much less references to these empty meaningless memes that have no relevance whatsoever to anything but some deep personal obsessive fixations have no impact in the slightest.

      I suppose it was too much to expect anything but obsessional fixations and frantic fantasies, but I’m not really surprised judging from past encounters though.

      Supported links and evidence please, or does that infamous “giggle gagging order” prevent anything being substantiated and hence reduces that tirade of irrelevance to mere dodgy opinion….

      Oops! (copyright)

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