Emails and text messages released to Greenpeace Energydesk under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request reveal that the county’s most senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, travelled to Lancashire to host a dinner with Cuadrilla’s Francis Egan, local and national government officials and industry executives to discuss shale gas and oil.
The messages give an insight into the relationship between Cuadrilla and senior civil servants, including the new Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil (OUGO) which aims to "promote the safe, responsible, and environmentally sound recovery of the UK’s unconventional reserves of gas and oil”.
DECC say facilitating discussions between executives and regulators is a key part of its role. A Cabinet Office spokeswoman told The Independent that Sir Jeremy regularly met with senior industry figures.
The government has come under pressure over its links to the shale gas industry after it emerged that the Prime Minister’s election advisor, Lynton Crosby, had worked on behalf of fracking firms in Australia. At the time the Cabinet secretary ruled that no inquiry was necessary.
In one text on 3 May, an unnamed Cuadrilla employee updates OUGO head Duarte Figueira on his meetings with the Balcombe parish council before adding “Please ask your press office not to comment on any speculative queries, enjoy your swimming and the weekend".
That same day Mr Figueira invited Cuadrilla boss, Francis Egan, to dinner and drinks at the Preston Marriot.
At the dinner, on 9 May, Mr Egan met Sir Jeremy Heywood along with other senior government figures key to decisions on fracking including DECC chief civil servant, Stephen Lovegrove and Phil Halsall, the CEO of Lancashire County Council. Tony Grayling from the Environment Agency (EA) was also present.
A DECC spokesperson said: “The role of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil is to encourage the development of the industry in a way that safeguards public safety and the environment and maximises benefits to the economy. Facilitating discussions between companies, councils and regulators is part of this role.”
A Cabinet office spokesperson said “The Cabinet Secretary regularly meets businesses from all sectors of the economy... the purpose of the discussion on shale was to inform himself on the state of play on the scale of the opportunity and the regulatory and environmental issues involved. As part of this trip he also visited Sellafield.”
Ken Cronin, head of the UK Onshore Operators group which represents shale gas firms attended the meeting along with executives from Ineos – which provides the chemicals - and Carillion, which provides support services.
Large parts of the text message correspondence between Mr Duarte and Cuadrilla are redacted but Cuadrilla’s well documented difficulties in Balcombe may have strained the cordial relationship.
On the 26 July, after a number of protestors were arrested near to Cuadrilla’s drilling site a Cuadrilla representative asks Mr Figueira “can we speak”, but there is no reply for four days.
The firm goes on to update Mr Figueira on the many TV appearances of their chief executive and the halting progress at the site “drilling was delayed today for technical reasons but should start tomorrow,” says another text, “will advise when underway.”
The reply to that text, on the 1 August, is entirely redacted.
Cuadrilla were contacted to comment on this story, but have so far declined to do so.