UK Fracking Commissioner Admits to Deleting Correspondence With Industry
By Russell Scott and Zach Boren
The British government's recently-departed shale gas commissioner admitted to routinely deleting correspondence and throwing away notes from meetings with fracking companies in a move that may have violated transparency requirements.
In response to an Unearthed freedom of information request sent earlier this year, Natascha Engel — who resigned this weekend after just 6 months in the role — said: "I tend to deal with everything on the day and delete what has been done to avoid any huge build-ups or risk of duplication.
"The same is true of the few notes I take in meetings which I review in the evenings, action and throw away."
The failure to take notes and systematic destruction of information in this manner could be in breach of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR).
The original request was for all email communications with the UK's two leading fracking firms: INEOS – for which Engel has previously done paid work — and the Lancashire-based operator Cuadrilla.
Unearthed initially wrote to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which employs Engel for a fee of £500 a day, for the information but were told to apply directly to Engel herself who was described as "separate from BEIS."
Following Engel's response, Unearthed has requested an internal review of the handling of the request.
However, it is not clear if the review will continue to be processed following Engel's exit and, if so, who will conduct it, as Engel carried out the initial response and guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office states that review of this nature should be "carried out by someone senior to the person who dealt with the original request" or, if that is not possible, "someone trained in, and who understands, the Environmental Information Regulations."
Though Engel did provide a handful of emails in response to the request, there were no communications covering Oct. 5, when she first entered the role, and Dec. 30.
In her resignation letter to business secretary Greg Clark, Engel decried the government's refusal to review the seismic activity standards that have made drilling incredibly difficult to carry out.
She wrote: "a perfectly viable and exciting new industry that could help meet our carbon reduction targets, make us energy secure and provide jobs in parts of the country that really need them is in danger of withering on the vine" unless the government reviews its rules on drilling-induced tremors.
Engel told the newspaper City AM the Unearthed investigation had "absolutely no bearing" on her decision to resign, and said: "I have not routinely destroyed my correspondence, what I've done is answered correspondence and deleted anything that I don't need in order not to have an inbox that's very full."
Given that Engel's role was to "be a contact point for residents" and "to listen to their concerns" the conversations and meetings that the commissioner has with the shale gas industry are of high public interest, and of the utmost relevance if trust is to be restored between local residents and the government on this issue.
The lack of an appropriate records management policy has led to criticism from politicians and campaigners.
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said: "This appears to be at best a case of incompetence and at worst a deliberate attempt to cover up information that the commissioner does not want to make public.
"There is clearly a very strong public interest in having emails and notes of meetings made available and it is simply unacceptable if they are being purposefully deleted and destroyed."
Destruction of Records
In failing to take notes and systematically destroying her correspondence with industry, the commissioner may have breached the EIR and the information commissioner's guidance, which require public authorities to have a clear records management policy in place and — in respect of environmental information — "take reasonable steps to organise the information relevant to its functions with a view to the active and systematic dissemination to the public of the information."
Public authorities — including the commissioner — are required to keep records for regulatory and accountability purposes and to ensure these can be retrieved when necessary.
And if Engel deleted any of the information requested after the day on which Unearthed first made the request and with the intention of preventing its disclosure it could amount to a criminal offense under the EIR.
Steve Goodrich, research manager at Transparency International UK told Unearthed: "It is incumbent on all public bodies to maintain adequate records of their external communications as a safeguard against potential misconduct and mischief.
"To 'shred as you go' suggests a default approach which denies the public a paper trail that offers a means of accountability for what is done in their name.
"Wherever there's evidence of public officials systematically destroying minutes and correspondence relating to matters of public interest or national significance, this should sound the alarm and be subject to review as a matter of urgency."
Unearthed has also seen evidence that Engel had been using a second email account to conduct government business. The correspondence from a private Gmail address was dated November 2018, nearly a month after she had commenced her role as the shale gas commissioner.
Unearthed asked that the commissioner disclose any emails between her and the fracking industry from the private account but to date none have been released.
The few emails released to Unearthed showed that Engel met with INEOS, her old employer, at the firm's London head office on Jan. 17, 2019 for a "catch-up."
The company's Chief Operating Officer Tom Pickering also wrote to her in January to confirm that Engel received a "pre Christmas update" on the firm's fracking plans.
Engel also met with the Cuadrilla director Francis Egan on Jan. 15, 2019 at the Institute of Directors office in central London.
No minutes or notes from the three encounters with key players in the fracking industry were provided by the commissioner.
When asked if she still receives funding from the fracking industry, Engel told Unearthed: "As you know I worked for INEOS for six months until April 2018. Since October 2018 when I started my current role, the Shale Commissioner's fee has been my sole income."
Unearthed has also discovered that the commissioner submitted a complaint to broadcasting regulator Ofcom in November 2018 over a Channel 4 news broadcast about drilling-induced earthquakes.
The complaint, obtained by Unearthed via a separate of freedom of information request, calls on Ofcom to "investigate this item" as it "misrepresented facts" in comparing the oil and gas earthquakes felt in the Netherlands and the seismic activity that occurred near the UK's fracking site.
She wrote: "To suit its editorial line, Channel 4 News buried the fundamental differences between the two countries and has scared rather than informed its viewers.
"Last year the ASA upheld a complaint about a misleading advertisement on fracking. I hope that on the much higher standards that viewers expect from television news by a public service broadcaster you will do the same regarding this item which was campaigning masquerading as journalism."
It was around this time that Engel also wrote to the editors of news outlets to say she was "alarmed" by the media coverage of fracking-induced tremors at Preston New Road.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Unearthed.
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
- Sir David Attenborough Set to Present BBC Documentary on ... ›
- 7 of the Best New Documentaries About Global Warming - EcoWatch ›
- Movies to Watch This Earth Day: EcoWatch Staff Picks - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The world's largest online retailer is making it slightly easier for customer to make eco-conscious choices.
- Employees Are Fighting for Climate Change at Work - EcoWatch ›
- Amazon's Carbon Footprint Rises 15% as Company Invests $2 ... ›
- Jeff Bezos Pledges $10 Billion to Fight the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Budweiser Re-Labels As Climate-Friendly Beer - EcoWatch ›
The Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a risk assessment for toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos Tuesday that downplayed its effects on children's brains and may be the first indication of how the administration's "secret science" policy could impact public health.
- Democratic Bill Banning Toxic Pesticides Applauded as 'Much ... ›
- Trump EPA Won't Regulate Toxic Drinking Water Chemical That ... ›
- California, Nation's Top User of Chlorpyrifos, Announces Ban on ... ›
- Wheeler's EPA Keeps Brain-Damaging Chlorpyrifos in Food ›
- Entire Pesticide Class Must Be Banned to Save Children's Health ... ›
By Maria Trimarchi and Sarah Gleim
If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
<p>Why environmental refugees flee their homes is a complicated mixture of environmental degradation and desperate socioeconomic conditions. People leave their homes when their livelihoods and safety are jeopardized. What effects of climate change put them in jeopardy? Climate change triggers, among other problems, desertification and drought, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/deforestation.htm" target="_blank">deforestation</a>, land degradation, rising sea levels, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/flood.htm" target="_blank">floods</a>, more frequent and more extreme storms, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/earthquake.htm" target="_blank">earthquakes</a>, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/volcano.htm" target="_blank">volcanoes</a>, food insecurity and famine.</p><p>The September <a href="http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2020/09/ETR_2020_web-1.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Ecological Threat Register Report</a>, by the Institute for Economics & Peace, predicts the hardest hit populations will be:</p><ul><li>Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa</li><li>Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan (which are among the world's least peaceful countries)</li><li>Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran are most at risk for mass displacements</li><li>Haiti faces the highest risk of all countries in Central America and the Caribbean</li><li>India and China will be among countries experiencing high or extreme water stress</li></ul>
- Think Today's Refugee Crisis is Bad? Climate Change Will Make it a ... ›
- Climate Change Forces 20 Million People to Flee Each Year, Oxfam ... ›
- Meet the World's First Climate Refugees - EcoWatch ›
In his latest documentary, My Octopus Teacher, free diver and filmmaker Craig Foster tells a unique story about his friendship and bond with an octopus in a kelp forest in Cape Town, South Africa. It's been labeled "the love story that we need right now" by The Cut.
- You're Not So Different From an Octopus: Rethinking Our ... ›
- 'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From ... ›