Contributoria

Article A green economy manifesto

Politicians and unconventional oil and gas - a fracking disgrace

There's a reason both the Tories and Labour are rather fracking keen on shale - Steve Topple exposes the web of City finance and company directors influencing their energy policies

On Tuesday 18 August, like a (literal) thief in the night, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) quietly announced that “27 onshore blocks from the 14th Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round will be formally offered to companies.”

Or, to you and me, the starting gun was fired for the theft of our land by fast-track fracking.

If the 27 licences are granted, along with another 132 available later in the year, that will mean 9,880 sq. miles of new land licensed for fracking, taking the minimum potential total to around 17,100 sq. miles, or 13% of England. This, however, works on the assumption that “protected areas“ will actually be protected. If not the figure will be nearer an eye-watering 36%.

The Guardian, one of the few papers that covered the story, described it as follows: “The 2,700 sq. km (1,040 sq. miles) of land in 27 blocks of 10km x 10km will not be formally offered until a second much larger tranche, covering areas in the north-east, the West Country and the Isle of Wight believed to be ecologically sensitive, have been assessed under environmental measures.”

This is further to the closure of an Environment Agency (EA) public consultation in June on rule changes regarding “unconventional onshore oil and gas exploration” and the granting of licences for this (or, if you prefer, it told the public to “mind their own business” about fast-track fracking). If the proposed rule changes go ahead it will mean that fracking companies will be able to apply for “standard” permits (as opposed to “bespoke” ones that currently exist) to test, with acid-based fracturing, at what point rock becomes permeable enough to frack into.

The Independent wrote: “The changes will sidestep the need for public consultation in England. Under the proposed new permit regime, the EA will no longer visit the site and conduct a thorough environmental audit before drawing up a set of tailored requirements for the exploration company. Instead, it will create a one-size-fits-all permit based on a set of rules that will be awarded to oil and gas companies showing they can meet the criteria.

Paying lip service to public consultation

In a typically snide government manoeuvre, the consultation was opened in March with the usual fanfare of a wet fart; therefore it only came to activists and the media’s attention four days before the closing date for objections – too late to garner any mass support.

Our government (via the OGA) gleefully announced: “It’s important we press on and get shale moving, while maintaining strong environmental controls. Investment in shale could reach £33bn and support 64,000 jobs creating financial security for hard-working people and their families, while providing a cost-efficient bridge to lower-carbon energy use.”

It’s no wonder the OGA are excited by the prospect of fracking 13% of England. Its chief executive, Andy Samuel, was managing director of BG Group, an oil and gas multinational, until January. BG Group is owned by Shell, naturally.

As is usually the case with anything that is remotely in the public interest, the Scottish government has halted fracking outright, until such time it may consider it safe, and the Welsh Assembly has said it will block any applications that are thrown its way.

What possible interest could HSBC have in fracking the UK?

So why the Conservative and Labour obsession with something that we have so “little experience of what can go wrong with the geology in the UK” on? (A Greenpeace scientist’s words, not mine.) The answer lies, as always, in parliament’s relationship with the City of London.

Now, here comes the science bit – CONCENTRATE!

Let’s pick a company out of thin air. Say… HSBC? What possible interest could it have in fracking the UK?

The Conservatives employed Ben Moxham in the last parliament as an energy and climate change adviser. Moxham was previously vice-president of a company called Riverstone Holdings, an “energy and power-focused private investment firm”. Riverstone holds a 42% share in a company called Cuadrilla, which has been granted licences to explore fracking in Lancashire and West Sussex. Cuadrilla’s banking services are provided by HSBC.

Labour employed Dr John Roberts to advise it on its fracking policy for the general election. Roberts is chairperson of the New Energy Investment arm of a company called BlackRock, which specifically advises on portfolios relating to shale gas. BlackRock is a multinational investment company, whose trustees for many of its investments are HSBC.

“It’s a fluke!” I hear you cry.

OK, let’s try another one - PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Surely they can’t be hot for fracking as well?

The Conservative Baroness Sarah Hogg is a director at the Treasury. Hogg is a non-executive director and shareholder at BP. BP operates 48 shale extraction sites in the US alone. PwC is BP’s internal auditor.

Labour employed Sir John Armitt to conduct a consultation into infrastructure and energy policy in the UK, for the general election. Armitt sits on the management advisory board of Siemens. Siemens earns $11bn a year from selling equipment for shale extraction. PwC is Siemens’ internal auditor.

The donor adviser

However, one of the most telling threads of this web surrounds a businessman named Algy Cluff. Cluff owns several companies, all directly involved in the exploration of “unconventional oil and gas”. One of these companies, Cluff Natural Resources, has agreed to “collaborate” with multinational vultures Halliburton on UK exploration, which in turn works with Shell, internationally.

Unsurprisingly, Cluff is a Conservative Party donor – mainly to Ken Clarke, whose constituency of Rushcliffe falls in the boundaries of an exploration licence for fracking.

But, Cluff also had direct influence over Labour fracking policy for the general election – two of his employees – a director and a consultant, advised on the study that underpinned the party’s policy and also the amendments it tabled to the Infrastructure Bill – which the Tories accepted.

You could say Labour is the greater of the evils in this, as it specifically ignored direct advice from Friends of the Earth telling them to back a full moratorium on fracking. Instead it plumped for their Tory donor-instigated “amendments”, which have now been proven not to be worth the brown envelope they were written on.

Whether an outright moratorium would have got through parliament in January, when it was voted on, had Labour had backed it, is irrelevant. Their incessant capitulation to anything but the public’s best interests is, quite frankly, shocking.

Policies regarding shale gas have no basis in public or environmental issues - they are purely steered by the industry and its degenerate corporate backers.

The nefarious hand of fracking is even grasping at the Labour leadership contest. Liz Kendall’s campaign has been enriched to the tune of £10,000 by Clive Hollick, director of Honeywell Inc., which “offers a broad range of key technologies and products that allow shale and conventional gas producers to remove contaminants from natural gas and recover high-value natural gas liquids used for petrochemicals and fuel.” Kendall, oddly, has barely mentioned fracking of late.

These are just four examples from a veritable spider’s web of connections surrounding big business, finance, the two major parties and fracking that could be documented over several encyclopedias. But the running theme is always the same; their policies regarding shale gas have no basis in public or environmental issues - they are purely steered by the industry and its degenerate corporate backers.

It is, though, telling that in June the EU Parliament voted, albeit symbolically, for a moratorium on fracking “until this is proven safe for the environment, citizens and workers”. While this has no practical implications, it epitomises the shifting of feelings towards shale on the continent, which is fast becoming a non-starter.

However, the EU chose not to officially regulate on fracking last year – oddly, after lobbying from the UK’s top civil servant in Brussels.

Ivan Rogers (previously a private secretary to David Cameron) said of EU legislation: “We will need a longer term strategy to manage the risks [from restrictive legislation on fracking] including … an influencing strategy for the new European parliament and commission.“

Rogers is a former banker at Barclays Capital and Citigroup.

Honest politicians? Working for us? In a democracy?

What a fracking joke.

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