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?
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?
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.
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.
Before she resigned, Shale Gas Commissioner Natasha Engel admitted routinely destroying her correspondence with fracking companies….
— alex thomson (@alextomo) April 28, 2019
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.
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.