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. To be fair, when I contacted her to meet with the Harthill Community she did respond, we just didn’t manage to coordinate with her diary. Now it’s too late.

    • Was this post just another ‘Jobs for the Elite’ box-ticking exercise. Give a fancy new title but with no real powers and certainly no teeth. Your decision, no-one else’s…….But if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck etc………

  2. The only reason Natascha Engel would go to Sheffield would be to oversee the FCC fracking waste and Blackburn Meadows or to visit pro fracking former Labour colleagues like Angela Smith? Or to talk to MP’s and councillors in the Mosborough constituencies, which is just over the border from her former Derbyshire constituencies, Nothing else fracking related was or is happening in Sheffield.

  3. Workaholic wasn’t she! Nearly completed her annual days within 5 months.

    No wonder she is targeted by the antis.

    Of course she will now be free to speak out. Could be interesting.

  4. From a Reuter’s article on her resignation, she is quoted as saying:
    ‘“We are choosing to listen to a powerful environmental lobby campaigning against fracking rather than allowing science and evidence to guide our policy making. By staying silent, we are in danger of pandering to what we know to be myths and scare stories,” Engel said in her resignation letter.’
    This is from someone who has no Engineering or Scientific background, but is a linguist. Using the same argument, that it is environmentalists, who are not applying science or that evidence from the USA and Australia, is just myths and scare stories!
    The article’s last paragraph, also indicates that she is the one ignoring the evidence, that shale gas is not viable!
    ‘“Shale gas could still have an exciting future in the UK but for that to be the case, the traffic light system needs to be reviewed quickly or the limits changed to reflect the measurements used in every other extractive industry,” Engel said.
    “In the absence of that, a perfectly viable industry is wasted.”’

  5. Her essential message that the 0.5 threshold universally applied to all fracking sites in the UK is no longer scientifically based, is correct. It should be reviewed on a case by case basis. I know you antis will be uncomfortable with the fact that Natascha switched from anti-frack to pro-frack, but it demonstrates to me that she is someone who is open to learn from the evidence base & that is to be commended.

    • Am afraid Dr Nick, that Natasha just saw a job opportunity at the time, as she had just lost hers to an anti-fracking conservative.

      I wonder, was she offered the option of resignation this time, as the shale gas industry has gone out with a whimper?

      • Frackaholics Anonymous might help Natasha, or perhaps anti brainwashing and actually talking to Ruth and Paul on Drill or Drop now she no longer has such a “workaholic” diary might be more appropriate?

        If anyone can be bothered to listen that is, perhaps Drill or Drop should ignore her requests for an interview nine times before accepting Natasha’s requests?

    • Nick – I totally agree. I’ve only met Natasche a few times but that was enough for me to realise what a thoroughly clever and open minded person she is. The good thing is that her move from this position will give her the chance to be an even greater champion for shale gas than she was

  6. When you are as busy as she seemed to be, then obviously prioritising where to commit your time becomes vital. Seems to have good time planning skills, that she can now add to her CV.

  7. Ideal choice to deal with the antis then John!

    “Plenty of cheap oil and gas sloshing around the world” was a classic of the time, that would probably have her laughing so much she could have triggered a major “earthquake”.

    9-0 seems a pretty “slim margin” based upon 7-0 fitting that description. Obviously reflecting the “system”. Good for her. Always worth identifying with the market one operates within.

    Looks as if she is getting a larger audience now than she was. Awaiting the hatchet job to start from BEIS.

    Could be interesting.

    • Meanwhile back in the real world, a recent report that the soil absorbs more CO2 than vegetation and the oceans, and that a process of rewilding of the earth and moving to a plant based ecology will be far more beneficial for carbon capture and sequestration than any as yet evasive and unproven industrial carbon capture process or further fossil fuel extraction can ever provide.
      The obscenity of intensified battery animal based farming techniques rather than an agricultural based civilisation is the most naturally intelligent forward looking approach.
      Merely continuing the same old failed onshore fracking and further fossil fuel fool insanity as advocated by this self decommissioned shale gas commissioner will only lock us into decades more downwards trend towards irreversible climate change and an unstoppable tipping point that no amount of fossil fuel or rewilding of the Earth will prevent.
      Not so much an Extinction Rebellion, but an Extinction Prevention is the only remaining sane intelligent way forwards towards a future for our children and future generations and not this recidivist backwards looking preservation of mere profit motive for outdated non sustainable non renewable and totally suicidal inertia.

      [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

  8. Bit difficult to grow crops on solar panels! Oops.

    Equally, somewhat difficult to grow enough to consume if vast acres/hectares are committed to growing fuel-as current. (In addition to the vegetable oil in place of red diesel.) Oops.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world the huge increase in middle classes around the world have No.1 on their list?? Meat consumption increase. Oops.

    Chinese Belt and Road initiative helping to deliver the first UN sustainable development goal, namely the elimination of world poverty. However, it comes with the building of 700 new coal-fired power stations, more than a third of which are already under construction! Oops.

    The peasants revolt happened a long time ago. The worlds peasants who are now moving out of that position will not be pushed back because a few want them to do so. Why not just swap places?

    Perhaps Greta would like Sweden to be deforested to enable more soil to absorb CO2? Would stop the forest fires she is so frightened about.

    Meanwhile, India continues to invest to produce a gas infrastructure which may save some of the remaining forests for the remaining tigers. Shame what it will do with regard to gas demand, and subsequently to gas prices.

    Have fun. Off to plant out my Brussel Sprouts so they can utilise some CO2.

    • ‘We find that global warming has very likely exacerbated global economic inequality, including ∼25% increase in population-weighted between-country inequality over the past half century. This increase results from the impact of warming on annual economic growth, which over the course of decades has accumulated robust and substantial declines in economic output in hotter, poorer countries—and increases in many cooler, wealthier countries—relative to a world without anthropogenic warming. Thus, the global warming caused by fossil fuel use has likely exacerbated the economic inequality associated with historical disparities in energy consumption. Our results suggest that low-carbon energy sources have the potential to provide a substantial secondary development benefit, in addition to the primary benefits of increased energy access.’
      https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/04/16/1816020116.short?rss=1&utm_source=Fareed%27s+Global+Briefing&utm_campaign=20cd25597a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_04_23_08_53&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6f2e93382a-20cd25597a-83590317

      • Obviously the “we” have not travelled to India or China recently! “Very likely” is a bit of a clue.

        But, no need to go all that way. London is closer and the expenditure of Chinese tourists can clearly be seen every day of every week. Perhaps they spend the rest of their time building coal fired power stations around the world? (Especially when the London shops are impossible to access!)

        Perhaps the global economic inequality is more to do with those who have enjoyed relative low cost access to fossil fuels and those who have not? Chinese may have a bit more experience on what it takes to reduce inequality.

    • You clearly missed a recent report on how crops are being grown in massive greenhouses with energy coming from solar panels and no soil needed; I believe it’s called hydroponics. The water used is from sea water that is desalinated using renewable solar energy.

      • No, I did not Malcolm. Hydroponics have been around a long time and many of our salads and strawberries are already grown using that technology. Indeed, it is quite easy to do in a back garden greenhouse. Try Giggling it.

        If you are going to suggest some methods for feeding 7 billion, rising to 10 billion, then you really need something a little more imaginative than that. But, that is the issue with the antis. They grasp hold of a report that offers small gains for a few and extrapolate it to billions of people, and say it is all there and waiting.

        Meanwhile, maize will often be more profitable for vast areas of farmland in USA due to the false premium being paid to produce fuel derived from it, farmers will plant far more and decrease the planting of soya. Soya is the main protein source within animal feed, the price of soya will escalate and then everyone around the world pays more for their meat. Ever seen that included within the economics of “alternatives” or a major benefit from US fracking?? Closer to home, UK has got into the act and was heading for 3 million tonnes of grain used for the same purpose. Trouble is, there has to be a bumper harvest year EVERY harvest year to produce 3 million tonne available, otherwise there is a shortage-and guess what? Yep, the price of cereals into animal feed escalates so we all pay more for our meat to subsidise “green” energy.

        And the antis waffle on about fossil fuels being subsidised!

  9. I generally have a full diary of meetings and commitments, the vast majority of which I don’t get paid for. However, for any that I do get paid for, I expect some evidence of attendance and carrying out alloted tasks. If Ms Engels has destroyed most of the evidence so there’s no proof of her actually doing the job, why was she being paid – and let’s not forget that there will be substantial expenses on top of the salary. If no such evidence of activity was required, there were serious flaws, or total omission of any oversight and management of this role. Let’s not forget this was a civil service appointment funded by the taxpayer and therefore should be fully accountable. On this point, under the FOI Act it is an offence to: “deliberately destroy, hide or alter requested information to prevent it being released.”, so as a taxpayer funded civil servant this needs investigation. Or perhaps the ‘freestyle’ actions of Ms Engels suggest she was actually being paid by the industry? I wonder if BEIS would like to confirm this point? The blanket media coverage her resignation attracted is also interesting – far wider coverage even than the 56 seismic events of Cuadrilla’s second fracking debacle. One could almost believe that the event was stage managed (but by whom) to apply pressure for relaxation of the TLS and bolster a flagging industry. I’m no geology or seismic expert, but it beggars belief that on the basis of performing a small fraction of one frack at PNR, with 56 resultant seismic events, there is enough information available to change the whole TLS system, previously agreed by the experts, industry and govt. In my mind, the opinion of a small number of industry paid consultants doesn’t make a sensible consensus.

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