Secretive Industry Conference Seeks to Persuade People Fracking is a Good Idea

Protest signs on the gate at AGL's fracking site on Fairbairns Lane, Gloucester

A secretive fracking conference sponsored by Dow and Halliburton and featuring speakers from a range of publically-funded government agencies is taking place somewhere in Birmingham tomorrow.

The UK Onshore Oil and Gas: Policy, Planning and Future Developments conference aims to encourage delegates to pursue fossil fuel extraction in the UK.

The conference is “designed to give help, guidance and support to the public sector to ensure delegates attending have the right and most accurate information on onshore oil and gas and environmental planning”, according to its website. It will also explore ways “to minimise environmental impacts, such as the treatment of waste water from drilling operations, noise pollution and traffic management, to local communicates [sic]”, the website says.

The organisers, the ironically named Open Forum Events, told DeSmog UK press passes for the event are “limited” with only a few chosen national and trade journalists being allowed into the conference.

Its location is being kept secret due to “the sensitivity of the subject”. This is “company policy”, the organisers told DeSmog UK.

Ken Cronin, chief executive of industry lobby group UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) will chair the event. DeSmog UK recently revealed how UKOOG sits in a network of global fracking organisations that pour lobbying money into the UK parliament.

Dow Chemical is also part of this network, having given £2,500 to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Oil and Gas in 2016. Oil giant BP has a 16 percent stake in the chemical giant.

Andrew Mullaney, Lancashire County Council’s head of planning and environment is also speaking at the event. Mullaney has been under pressure in recent months as local residents continue to protest against Cuadrilla’s shale gas operations at Preston New Road.

He will certainly be an authoritative voice – Mullaney recently claimed he spent a third of his time monitoring the Preston New Road site, with another planning officer spending two-thirds of their time on the work.

Mark Hill, head of development management for the North York Moors National Park Authority will also speak at the event. In 2015, six licenses were granted to companies including Cuadrilla and Ineos to potentially frack in the national park.

The government officials will be joined by a number of prominent industry voices.

Sean Macfayden, a consultant for US energy giants Halliburton, is set to deliver insights on how the company identifies new, unconventional, oil and gas reservoirs. In 2010, Halliburton pleaded guilty to destroying evidence after Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Jason Nisse from PR firm Newgate will also deliver a talk on what the programme describes as a “war of attrition with opponents of so-called ‘fracking’”. The programme promises he will tell the industry audience about the PR lessons his company has learned over the past four years, and what to expect in the future,

Kevin Hollinrake, MP for Thirsk and Malton in North Yorkshire, where Third Energy have applied to frack, will discuss the “the pressure on politicians who are supportive of Shale Gas”, the programme says. Hollinrake supports fracking “if it is safe and has no significant impact on the countryside”, according to his website.

The event will also feature speakers from publicly-funded government agencies included the Health and Safety Executive and Environment Agency.

Environmental groups and civil society voices are notably absent from the programme. 

Shale gas specialist journalist Ruth Hayhurst has been declined a press pass to the event for the second year in a row. DeSmog UK was also denied a press pass, as were a number of other environmental journalists we spoke to.

Ash Hewitson, a campaigner with Reclaim the Power, told DeSmog UK:

“These conferences are hidden from the public eye and are organised in a way that seeks to amplify a pro-fracking message without the opportunity for voices of civil society to engage in the argument and oppose it. The Oil and Gas industry are trying to let this 'exclusive' meeting of industry and politicians go unnoticed, but will use what goes on their to further their own agenda. Events like this further show the way governments and corporations are tied up together and they need to be shut down.”

Updated, 29/03/2017: A quote from Reclaim the Power was added. The first line was changed to represent that it is Dow Oil, Gas and Mining that sponsored the event, not Dow Chemical.

Main image credit: Protest Gloucester via Flickr CC BY-SA

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