Lord Browne held ‘urgent meetings’ with environment minister to speed up fracking project

Fracking executives from Cuadrilla held a series of “urgent” meetings last summer with the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, and the Environment Agency about permission to drill for shale gas in Balcombe and Lancashire.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that former BP executive Lord Browne, Chairman of Cuadrilla, and Francis Egan, the company’s CEO, had regular contact with Paterson over environmental regulations, including a teleconference call on 13 June with Lord Smith from the EA and Business and Energy Minister Michael Fallon.

In that conference call, the EA offered Browne a shortened two week consultation but that was rejected because Cuadrilla’s executives thought it risked legal challenge.

The EA also suggested it would provide permits to drill in Lancashire faster if Cuadrilla’s own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was shortened.

The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) did not release any details of the meetings between Cuadrilla’s Lord Browne and Paterson saying “no notes were kept” of their discussions.

This is just the latest incident illustrating the close relations between the UK government and the fracking industry. Only a month before this conference call, Francis Egan hosted Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood for dinner in Lancashire.

Together, Egan and Lord Browne lobbied for Cuadrilla to be excluded from environmental regulations adopted in 2011, with Egan arguing “that the Mining Waste Directive does not apply”.

The Mining Waste Directive is an EU environment regulation designed to limit the adverse effects of waste management from the extractive industries, and it was under the MWD that the fracking permits were required last summer.

Timeline of correspondence between Owen Paterson, Lord Browne and the Environment Agency

3 June 2013

A letter from Lord Browne to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson reads:

“I am writing to request an urgent meeting on the subject of Cuadrilla
Resources applications to the Environment Agency for environmental permits
requires to progress the company’s proposed shale gas exploratory activities in

6 June 2013

An e-mail exchange shows the scheduling of a phone call between Paterson and Lorde
for that day, and also arrangements for a teleconference involving
Cuadrilla executives and government representatives the following week.

No notes were provided for the telephone call between Paterson and Browne.

13 June 2013

A summary of the teleconference meeting involving Owen Paterson, Michael
Fallon (Business and Energy Secretary), Lord Browne and Francis Egan of
Cuadrilla and Lord Smith of the Environment Agency.

This meeting concerned permits and regulations for shale gas drilling in Balcombe
and Lancashire.


“The EA have offered a shortened 2 week consultation process prior to
determining permits. Cuadrilla have decided to undertake a 4 week consultation
to minimise the risks of legal challenge.”

“The EA will be examining what can be done to simplify the application
process further.”


“If the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] process can be shortened then
the determining of permits by the EA can be brought forward.”

“In view of the scale of interest in shale gas exploration, and the comoplex permitting arrangements, there may be scope to simplify the relevant planning process and to consider going to a National Infrastructure Plan.”

13 June 2013

That same morning a press release announced Centrica plc as an investment partner in Cuadrilla’s shale gas project in Lancashire.

8 July 2013

Owen Paterson and Francis Egan arranged a phone meeting with Michael Fallon which
would last 30 minutes.

No notes were provided on 8 July meeting.

22 November 2013

A meeting was held involving Paterson, Egan, Lord Smith of the EA, the CEO of
iGas Andrew Austin and Ken Cronin from the UK Onshore Operators Group.

DEFRA said that they do not hold a record of the meeting note.