Shale gas company Cuadrilla asked Lancashire county council to help it remove the chair of a group set up to discuss the local community's concerns about its fracking site, DeSmog UK can reveal.
In an email exchange with the council, obtained by DeSmog UK through a freedom of information request, the company said it had “significant concerns” about how the group was being run, and asked the council to “support the appointment of a replacement chair”.
The company’s bid to replace the chair failed after the council “acknowledged” Cuadrilla’s concerns but refused to offer its support.
In a letter to the council in July, Cuadrilla listed a series of complaints about Lancashire councillor Paul Hayhurst.
Hayhurst chairs the community liaison group set up for residents, through their local representatives, to raise concerns about Cuadrilla’s activities at its Preston New Road shale gas site.
The group is formed of up to eleven community representatives, and meets once a month. Its rules state that the chair must be the county councillor for the Fylde West constituency, currently represented by Hayhurst.
Lancashire county council’s response, sent in August, a month after Cuadrilla raised its concerns, said it would not support moves to remove Hayhurst. It said that while the company’s concerns “are acknowledged”, the rules “cannot be changed except through a specific application which would have to be subject to consultation”.
The council suggested Cuadrilla meet Hayhurst “outside of the Community Liaison Group to discuss the chairmanship and general conduct of the meeting”. It offered to send a council representative to such a meeting “if it would be helpful”.
When asked for comment for this story, the council did not expand on why it rejected Cuadrilla’s request for help removing Hayhurst from his role but reiterated that the group’s rules clearly state that the chair must be the councillor for Fylde West.
Hayhurst told DeSmog UK that he was not aware of the letter, but was not surprised that Cuadrilla wished to remove him as chair of the group.
“Every time that someone has brought something up of concern, Cuadrilla has a spurious answer to it or they’ve basically dismissed any comments that people have made,” Hayhurst claimed. He said that when that happened, he felt his responsibility as chair was to “press Cuadrilla to give us a proper answer rather than just dismiss concerns that people might have”.
“I know Cuadrilla would love to have a chat around the table once a month and go away and tick a box and say we are listening to the community. But listening to the community and giving the community answers is a different ball game. And Cuadrilla up to now have stifled any explanations of any concerns that people have had.”
Hayhurst told DeSmog UK that Cuadrilla had not approached him for a meeting outside of the group, as the council suggested.
A spokesperson for Frack Free Lancashire, one of the groups leading the protests against Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site, told DeSmog UK they were also not surprised by the company’s actions.
“The community liaison group is the only way in which local residents can get answers from Cuadrilla. It is not a forum for Cuadrilla to manipulate for their own purposes, and if that is all that they hope to achieve, then the community liaison group is invalid and not fit for purpose.
“It should be community led and community controlled. It should not be a cheap PR exercise for a fossil fuel company”, they said.
Cuadrilla told DeSmog UK that it raised its concerns with the council following some particularly difficult meetings, and that it thought subsequent meetings have been better run. A spokesperson said:
“Following some community liaison group meetings which generated more heat than light Cuadrilla raised its concerns, through the proper channels, regarding how the Community Liaison group was operating. These concerns were listened to and subsequent meetings have been well managed, productive and, we believe, useful to all those who attend.”
Cuadrilla’s letter to the council outlined two main complaints about the liaison group: that the chair was not suitably impartial, and that “a minority grouping of impassioned representatives” that are anti-fracking were “monopolising the conversation”.
In particular, Cuadrilla complained that Hayhurst “compared regulation of the oil and gas industry with housing and fire regulations in the context of the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire”. It called the comments “inflammatory” and “insulting to our industry”.
Hayhurst, however, said the comments were taken out of context, and that they were made during a broader discussion about emergency planning.
“What came up from this is that there is no emergency plan for the site,” he said.
“The emergency services just have generic policies that they would use on the site, and the argument that was being made by members, and myself as well, was that with a site of this importance which is so close to where people live, they should have a dedicated emergency plan for the site.”
“So I likened it to the Grenfell tower disaster on the basis that I felt there was inadequate planning.”
In the letter, Cuadrilla also complained that the meetings could not be “unbiased” as two councillors involved in the group had been arrested outside the Preston New Road site as part of ongoing protests against the company’s activities.
One of those councillors, Miranda Cox, who represents the Kirkham South Ward on Kirkham Town Council, told DeSmog UK that she was “not surprised” that Cuadrilla had sought to remove Hayhurst.
She said the company “try and discredit” the group’s representatives “at every opportunity”, but that removing Hayhurst “would not make their [Cuadrilla’s] life easier because there are three very robust councillors as well as very determined residents” that participate in the group.
Cuadrilla’s letter to the council also claimed that after a “review of social media reports” of the meeting, it was concerned “a factually incorrect and deliberately negative bias has been placed upon information provided by Cuadrilla”. The company said this review was a reaction to a query catalysed by a comment on social media, rather than a systematic check of any particular social media accounts.
Hayhurst said it “annoys” him that Cuadrilla were using other councillors’ opposition to fracking to try and pressure the council into changing the formation of the liaison group.
“I have got no truck with many of the protestors and the way they are causing disruption for the people that I represent.”
“The protesters are having as much of a detrimental affect on people’s lives as Cuadrilla are. But the community liaison group is a liaison group not with the protestors but with Cuadrilla, and it’s supposed to be a way to keep Cuadrilla to its conditions. And when the company is flouting those conditions it is something that causes great unrest as far as the committee is concerned. And my job is to try to represent those people.”
As DeSmog UK previously reported, Cuadrilla rerouted its vehicles away from an agreed “preferred route” 115 times in three months. It has also breached the terms of its environmental permits five times in its first seven months of operation, and broke planning conditions to bring its drill onto the site in July.
Cuadrilla told the council it planned to change the planning conditions, rather than outline how it would change its behaviour to ensure such breaches did not happen again, emails sent to the council regarding the drill rig breach revealed.
Regarding the repeated breaches, Hayhurst told DeSmog UK:
“The company has basically ripped up the rules as far as the planning is concerned — they’re doing what they want and the county planners tell me that they are basically unable to stop them.
“So we have this scenario that is obviously causing great problems for the people of Preston New Road. And these issues are brought up at the committee and Cuadrilla gives spurious reasons why they’re doing it.”
Main image credit: Mat Hope/DeSmog UK CC.0