Suspicion over fracking firm’s “secret deal” with geological agency

181024 Eddie Thornton 3

Photo: Eddie Thornton

Anti-fracking campaigners have reacted with concern to news that the British Geological Survey (BGS) signed a non-disclosure agreement with Cuadrilla over access to operational data.

The i newspaper revealed last night that the 11-page agreement gave the BGS access to specified Cuadrilla information from the Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool.

But under the deal, the BGS could release the data only with Cuadrilla’s permission and it must destroy confidential documents at the firm’s request.

According to the i, the BGS and Cuadrilla discussed how they could keep the agreement confidential.

The news came as the latest fracking operation at Preston New Road caused more than 80 small earth tremors.

At least two were felt by people living in the area. Since work began on 15 August 2019, the company has been required to stop work twice because of earth tremors.

A spokesperson from the campaign group, Frack Free Lancashire, told DrillOrDrop:

“It is most concerning that Cuadrilla have been revealed to have a secret agreement with the British Geological Survey. This flies in the face of the transparency and ‘putting Lancashire first’ community engagement that Cuadrilla claim to operate under.

“Cuadrilla are failing to adhere to the ‘good industry practice’ stipulated by their industry body, UKOOG, as they continue to refuse to provide the specified daily report that includes the volumes of proppant and fluid pumped, chemical volumes used and a summary of injection pressures and depths.

“Questions must be answered about the British Geological Survey and their alleged position of impartiality, whilst colluding under a secret confidentiality agreement with private fracking company, Cuadrilla.

“Our perception of the British Geological Survey is now tainted and trust has been lost.”

Tony Bosworth, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth, told the i:

“We need complete transparency about fracking’s impacts on the environment.”

And Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, told the paper:

“A confidentiality agreement will do little to ­increase confidence in an unpopular and mistrusted industry.”

Cuadrilla confirmed there was a confidentiality agreement with the BGS but said this was “fairly standard practice between private and public sector organisations”. The company said:

“Cuadrilla is committed to open and transparent operations.”

A company spokesperson added:

“This agreement does not in any way impact the BGS in its publishing of a range of monitoring data.”

190824 bgs induced seismicity list.jpg

The BGS publishes online registers of earth tremors across the UK, including one for seismic events induced by human activity, such as fracking.

A statement from the BGS  said:

“Guidelines from the Information Commissioners Office encourage public authorities, like BGS, to work with industry and, where appropriate, to main a degree of confidentiality. Otherwise in some instances it would make it very difficult for industry to work very closely with local/public authorities.

“Wherever possible BGS makes all public information available, and this is standard policy.

“As an example borehole and seismic data is made publicly available through the National Geoscience Data Centre (NGDC).

The organisation told DrillOrDrop this week about the source of the data for tremors caused by fracking at Preston New Road.

“We use raw data from a combination of BGS and Cuadrilla [seismic monitoring] stations.

“However, our data processing and analysis is completely independent. Our analysts review all the events that we detect to determine event locations and magnitude without input from Cuadrilla or other third parties.

“Any events for which there is strong evidence that they are related to hydraulic fracturing operations are then added to the list.”

The BGS said the data was “manually reviewed” by an expert before it was published.

According to the i, the confidentiality agreement required the BGS to:

  • Keep private any confidential information passed to BGS relating to Cuadrilla’s operations, processes, know-how, designs, trade secrets or software
  • Erase all of Cuadrilla’s confidential information from BGS computer systems at Cuadrilla’s request
  • Destroy or return all documents and materials containing or based upon Cuadrilla’s information at Cuadrilla’s request

The paper quoted from email correspondence from a BGS official to Cuadrilla about the non-disclosure agreement from July 2019:

“We have had a request asking a number of questions about our relationship with Cuadrilla and, in particular, requesting a copy of the NDA we signed. I am just thinking about legal grounds for non-­release and just wondered if your legal guys had any thoughts?”

  • The non-disclosure agreement came to light in a response by the BGS to a request from the i using the Environment Information Regulations.

Updated with statement from BGS

15 replies »

    • Normal practice for any industry, Jono. For those who do not believe in industry, disgusting. For those who do believe in industry, nothing to see.
      All this does is show the true motivation of certain individuals who use environmental screens to mask their real agenda.

      Meanwhile, I quite like industry contributing tax income to the Chancellor as I may make use of it when I visit the NHS. Did you see Bilfinger UK adding 110 jobs on Scotland to service INEOS contracts, announced this week? Bog standard tax income. Over time, enough to pay for a few medical interventions.

      Wonder how many would like the NHS to share their medical details with all and sundry?

      • So the antis want Cuadrilla to release the information of volumes of proppant and fluid pumped, chemical volumes used and a summary of injection pressures and depths on a daily basis?

        In other words they want Cuadrilla to release all the commercially sensitive information that it is spending millions of pounds on to collect and not more of the environmental information that is already available, so that it is available to all and sundry.

        Sorry but that kind of thing doesn’t happen in any other kind of industry or research field.

  1. If there’s nothing to hide why have an NDA? They know there will be FOI requests so they could have chosen not to have this clause to ensure confidence in their transparency.

  2. “Cuadrilla is committed to open and transparent operations.” Except when it’s awkward, when they want the BGS to erase any of the data relating to them, for example.
    Black is white, and White is black. Say it often enough and it’s true!
    Yes, it stinks and we are saying so. We are not accepting this as an explanation.

  3. Used be known as “tight hole” and the red telephone direct line was the only way of passing information from the rig to the office. Things have come a long way since then. FOI has gone way too far and is open to abuse, as it often is by green / anti everything groups which require armies of civil servants to answer, people who should be doing proper work in their departments.

    Perhaps FOI is a left wing plot to create more Government jobs?

    • Paul Tresco

      On balance I think that FOI is ( as Kat notes ) good in a democracy, and I am happy my taxes go to support it.

      One reason is that you can see all the requests, which gives good insight into how people view various issues.

      I do have sympathy for those attempting to answer some of the more interesting queries, especially those that incorrectly state a problem, and then ask why it is not being dealt with. Unsurprisingly the answers are often late ( cue further time on investigation ).

  4. “Cuadrilla is committed to open and transparent operations“

    So why do they ignore best practice guidance from the OGA regarding disclosure of basic fracking data? When challenged on this previously they said as it was only guidance they don’t have to follow it.

    So much for
    “open and transparent operations”

  5. FOI has limitations if the request is too wide or will cost too much in both time and resources, it is vexatious and there are other legislative grounds as well. Further it is not only public individuals or environmentalists that submit requests, MPs, lawyers and others also. Transparency in public office is essential in a democracy. I agree that non disclosure agreements are used in business but they should not be used unnecessarily. And FOI will apply to agents and private organisations engaged by the public purse and quite rightly in my opinion.

    • This Non Disclosure Agreement is nothing more or less than Gold Standard World Class secrecy, censorship and the destruction of scientific data and should be fundamentally challenged in Parliament and in the courts.

      The temporary concealing of sensitive data for a number of years, is a political activity, and we all know why that is, it is protects the government from embarrassing information to that government or contains information of National Security which could reveal the methods and activities and personnel that resulted in or from a particular events or events. That is a process to protect the anonymity of the active agents, and the governments secret activities, regardless of origin.

      The data held by the BGS is scientific data, and any effort to conceal or actually destroy sensitive data, albeit in whatever format, is not only unscientific, it is deliberate censorship.

      The public should has a democratic right be fully appraised of such data if necessary via the Freedom Of Information Act. Destruction of data and failure to obtain permission to release data is therefore a complete travesty and a betrayal of any trust or confidence in a scientific publicly funded organisation that should be free for all to investigate.

      Such a scientific organisation should be fundamentally responsible for at least retaining all the relevant data for present and future times to examine and evaluate in its entirety.

      So now it seems we can no longer trust the BGS to be of any scientific validity or integrity whatsoever.

      One can only wonder how much data and compromising correspondence has all ready been destroyed or refused to be released by Cuadrilla.

      This is a back door method of classing all the activities of the onshore, and one presumes, the offshore activities of the fossil fuel industry subject to the equivilent of a Nationally Significant Infrastructure and a matter of National Security subject to the Official Secrets Act.

      It appears that Cuadrilla have effectively hidden their operations from the British people by these NDO’s. We can only ask how many other NDA’s exist with other publicly funded organisations such as the OGA and the EA?

      This a hidden can of secretive worms that will crawl and crawl and crawl right into the heart of what little remains of our democracy in the UK.

      [Typo corrected at poster’s request]

  6. Looking at some of the ill informed comments regarding seismic events on this site the necessarily has been clearly demonstrated, KatT.

    So, nothing to see.

  7. Ruth

    Just FYI……. BGS have got their way on their “Observatory” here in Cheshire – 18/04894/FUL

    Sadly it sailed through Planning Committee last month, papers attached

    I think that behind the scenes BGS had done a good job on the CWAC and the Planning Committee ( a new set of members following the 2019 elections) and convinced them BGS have academic integrity, are benign, positive, beneficial, etc and a force for economic good for Cheshire…….. I think one day we will find CWAC have been duped, as we all understand how BGS gets contracts and work from the industry, and so is far too close on fracking….

    Dave Plunkett

    PS The other local groups opposed to IGAS fracking were not so opposed to the BGS plans, so not a lot of fuss was made, and just a few of us objected or showed up at Committee to speak against it. Most of the comments on the application were neighbours even though it was quite clear that BGS do research for fracking.

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