Government breaches judge’s order on releasing secret fracking report

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Protest outside Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road on the first day of fracking, 15 October 2018. Photo: DrillOrDrop

The government has failed to comply with a ruling to release a secret report on challenges to a UK shale gas industry.

Last month, a judge ordered the disclosure of sections of  the report by 5pm on 25 November 2019.

The following day, DrillOrDrop was told it was in the process of being prepared for release and would be provided shortly. So far, the material has not been released.

Access to the document, which dates back to 2016, has been pursued for nearly two years by Zach Boren, a reporter with the Greenpeace investigative website Unearthed.

He used freedom of information laws to request the document from the Cabinet Office. When the government refused to release it, he took his case to an information tribunal.

Judge Fiona Shanks ruled that the background and executive summary, along with other parts of the main report, should be released in the public interest. Specific plans and intentions by individual operators could be redacted.

Overcoming barriers to shale gas

The report examined the potential state of the UK fracking industry by 2020, possible barriers to it and how they could be overcome.

It was produced by the Prime Minister’s Implementation Unit (PMIU), which is based in the Cabinet Office and works on behalf of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary.

Part of the unit’s work is to review the progress of policy delivery and to identify solutions to any barriers to implementation.

According to the tribunal ruling, the document was distributed in April 2016 to Number 10, the Cabinet Office, Treasury and the then departments of energy and climate change and communities and local government.

Two months later, the PMIU made a presentation to a meeting of the “cross-Whitehall group on shale”, which comprised government departments, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive. This included material from the report, much of it reproduced exactly.

Pursuing the shale gas report

The report came to light in November 2017 when Zach Boren made a freedom of information request about the number of unconventional gas wells projected to be drilled in the UK by 2030.

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) referred in its response to a 2016 Cabinet Office report which estimated about 17 sites by 2020 and 30-35 sites by 2022. It also said there could be about 155 wells by around 2025.

This was considerably below the 4,000 horizontal wells estimated to be drilled by 2032 by Ernst & Young in a report in 2013.

In January 2018, Mr Boren made an FOI request for the PMIU report. In March 2018, the Cabinet Office confirmed the report existed but refused to release.

The response said the report did not need to be disclosed because it was covered by exemptions in the information regulations on internal communications, commercial confidence, and interests of suppliers of information.

It stated:

“The British shale gas industry is still an emerging market. Release of information from 2016, even with the passage of time, could call into question the industry’s viability.”

In May 2018, an internal review by the Cabinet Office confirmed the decision to withhold the report.

Greenpeace and Mr Boren complained to the Information Commissioner. In November 2018, she required the Cabinet Office to disclose the background and executive summary, with some redactions.

The Cabinet Office appealed against this ruling, seeking to withhold further passages.

After a tribunal hearing, Her Honour Judge Fiona Shanks ruled that the report was meant to identify barriers and challenges to the progress of the fracking industry.

“It was in public interest for the public to have an insight into the problems as perceived by government”

Her ruling added:

“We noted an unfortunate tendency on the part of the Cabinet Office to be content for positive information about the fracking industry to be released but be anxious to withhold more negative information; we consider it was in the public interest for a full, rounded, picture to be disclosed.

“It is no secret that the government supported the development of the industry and the report was designed to address how the government could help it to develop; it was in our view in the public interest that the public should know how far officials were suggesting government might go in doing so.”

The government previously delayed releasing an unredacted version of a report on the rural impacts of fracking. That full report was finally published 11 months after the redacted version. It detailed negative effects of fracking, including a possible fall of 7% in house prices.

DrillOrDrop will report on the contents of the PMIU report when it is released. Link here


26 replies »

  1. Unearthed own report on the government’s refusal to release the document under the court order.

    UK government defies court order to release secret fracking report

    Brexit trade leak reveals US pushback against UK stance on food, climate and environment

    Climate Change: Are we passing some key ‘tipping points’?
    By Roger Harrabin
    BBC environment analyst
    27 November 2019

  2. Seriously, how could anyone apart from this current Government’s employees, their contractors and their Mums vote to keep them in power?
    They are just incapable of telling the truth to the General Public if it goes against their own policies.

  3. Irrespective of individual political views, the current Conservative administrations willingness to ignore the courts and comply with the law should worry everyone. A government that fails to comply and respect the law is undemocratic and on the way to being a dictatorship.

  4. It’s all okay. I have penciled in 13th December (oops, just noticed US spelling is embraced) pencilled in 13th December for a whole lot of educational stuff-from all directions.

    For the younger reader who might think this is unusual, as an older person I can offer, it has always been thus. The one that catches out most is that taxes upon the boardroom don’t stay in the boardroom, and their first port of call is the younger person. I would add “enjoy”, but I hope you don’t.

    • Devastating report “Is This Why Boris Johnson Blocked the Release of Report into Russian Interference? – Peter Jukes”

      No show from Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage on last nights climate debate on Channel 4. If you didn’t see it – see below.

      Watch “The Channel 4 News #ClimateDebate – world’s first party leaders’ debate on the climate”

      Are our elections being manipulated?

      ‘Our democracy is under threat’, former Cambridge Analytica employee tells FRANCE 24

      Are our elections being rigged?

      Rigged Elections – Clinton Curtis’ Sworn Testimony

      • Tell you what Paul.

        I don’t know about our elections being rigged but our elections are being influenced by serious fake and biased headlines from the printed and broadcast media.
        The omissions are as serious as the downright lies.
        This story about OUR GOVERNMENT failing to comply with a Judge’s instruction is major news that displays total contempt for our Legal System. It should be headlines WORLDWIDE and lead to the Government being declared unfit for office. Which of course they most certainly are!

        • Unless you missed it we have a General Election in less than two weeks. Vote them out Peter. The fracking report, whatever it says or doesn’t say, is not on 99% of the country’s radar and is irrelevant. Focus on the Fylde and elect the nanny or the ex-Schlumberger super engineer….oh I see they are not standing this time. Then vote for Gina Dowding and her silly boat. Your choices are:

          Gina Dowding
          Andy Higgins
          Liberal Democrat
          Mark Jewell
          Mark Menzies
          Martin Mitchell

          Who knows, Gina may get in on her anti fracking ticket, just like the nanny and Engineer didn’t. I would vote for her because she (her party) is proposing to cut the VAT on beer in pubs. You have to believe in something…..

          If Gina get’s elected it should get rid of her from North Lancs. She is currently an MEP for NW England – can you do both jobs? She also is or was a County Councillor and no doubt a Lancaster District Councillor. Going for some kind of public service positions record?

          • Paul Tresto You may believe this fracking report is on 99% of the public’s radar. This may or may not be true. What should be on the radar of every citizen of this country is the wilful disrespect and downright contempt these Conservatives display for the Courts. If you’re not concerned about this you should be.

            • Interesting how the Courts are so above reproach, when it suits an agenda, but are so corrupt when they don’t! Great when you win, rubbish if you lose.

              That has been on my radar for around 60 years. It should also be on any radar covering many centuries if history is researched.

              But, we now have the alternative for modern times of trial by Internet. So much choice.

              Another couple of weeks and there will be loads of reports to digest over Christmas preparations-with spuds that are NOT expensive and turkey which is REASONABLY priced-even though the court of the BBC has stated different.

  5. Audio on Clinton Curtis’ Sworn Testimony is poor so here is the transcript

    TRANSCRIPT (& VIDEO): Clinton Curtis’ Sworn Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, 12/13/2004


    I make no comment. Make up your own minds, just remember this is from 2004, that was 15 years ago.

  6. Interesting there are some who are so easily excited, manipulated and influenced! And then some feature on this site.


    Make up your own minds.

    Oops-seems the excitement suggests that is not an option. I suggest it is.

    • So Martin do you think it’s acceptable for the government to defy a court order?
      No excitement just incredulity.

  7. I would suggest Purdah may have something to do with it, Fifi.

    Do you really expect reports to be released during a GE??

    If you do, I think you will be disappointed. My post of 28th November gave quite a clear indication.

    • As reported in the piece above, DrillOrDrop were told last Tuesday (26th November) by the Cabinet Office that the report would be released “shortly”. There has so far been no mention of “purdah” as a reason for delay.

  8. I suspect it is still unlikely to be seen until after 12th December-which still complies with “shortly”.

    With the trains on strike until the New Year, may find that Courts are not too busy even after the 12th.

    • Martin; shortly can be defined as any period compared to another person’s time recognition.
      Probably God considers within the next thousands years to be shortly, I consider it to mean within the next 48 hours.
      Obviously 48 hours is well gone!

  9. I’m sure the world runs to your clock, Peter! LOL.

    (If God considers 1000 years to be shortly, then no worry regarding climate change shortly being irreversible.)

    Perhaps you had better let the UN know?

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