The British government has refused to release an internal report on the prospects of shale gas for fear that it could “call into question the industry’s viability”.
The Implementation Unit Report on Shale Gas, produced by the Cabinet Office in 2016, forecast 155 fracking wells across the country by 2025 — far fewer than had been touted by industry.
Since the report’s existence was revealed by Unearthed last month, government has conceded that the 155 wells figure is now considered ‘out of date’.
And yet, in its rejection of a freedom of information request, the Cabinet Office said that “even with the passage of time” the report “could call into question the industry’s viability”.
This decision hearkens back to the government’s handling of its damaging report into the ’rural economy impacts’ of shale gas in 2014 (back when Unearthed was Energydesk).
In that case, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) censored large portions of the report, but was eventually forced by the Information Commissioner to disclose what the hidden impacts were.
Unearthed later revealed the government’s plan to prevent the report’s release until after Lancashire County Council had voted on two applications to frack by Cuadrilla.
What little information Unearthed has gleaned so far about the report via freedom of information is:
- Government expects ‘approximately’ 17 unconventional oil and gas sites across England and Wales by the end of this decade, and 30 to 35 by 2022.
- ‘There could be around 155 wells by around 2025’ — not separated by exploration/production
- There is no information beyond 2025
Government has confirmed that these are the most recent estimates, though they are now considered ‘out of date’.
The Cabinet Office’s 5-page response to the freedom of information request from Unearthed mainly hinges on the exemptions relating to ‘the formulation of government policy‘ and ‘commercial interests’.
Though it concedes that there is a strong public interest argument in allowing the report to be published, the Cabinet Office said:
“There is a real risk that if the withheld information were released, then despite the passage of time since the report was written, it could still have an adverse effect on commercial organisations’ engagement in the market.”