“Frackademics” – Case study 6: The interrelationship between the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Gas and Oil and The Task Force on Shale Gas

Case study 6: The interrelationship between the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Gas and Oil and The Task Force on Shale Gas

In this last case study we will examine how ‘astroturfing’ happens at the Parliamentary level; and how the public relations mediated relationships between corporate interests and politics are increasingly used to frame and manage public debate.

To better inform members of Parliament, All-Party Groups [73] are run by and for Members of the Commons and Lords. Many APPGs also involve individuals and organisations from outside Parliament. There are a large number of groups [74] – 133 groups devoted to countries, and 473 devoted to other topics/issues.

In a number of cases the APPGs are run by public relations companies, and involve companies with a direct financial interest in that issue – who might also pay a contribution towards the costs of the APPG’s secretariat as part of their participation. The way in which APPGs grant access to Parliamentarians, in return for funding to pay for the work of the group, has been highlighted as potentially the ‘next big scandal’ in Parliament [75]. The recent report by Transparency International [76] also highlights the potential abuses within the APPG system.

There is an APPG on Unconventional Gas and Oil [77]. It has a number of Parliamentary members, an advisory panel made up of academics and corporate representatives, and group of ‘associate members’ – including individuals, academics and industry and corporate bodies.

The support role for this APPG was split, and has changed in the last few months:

  • The public relations company Edelman [78] had run the secretariat for the APPG until late 2014, when Hill and Knowlton took over. Edelman is one of the larger PR companies with a large client book [79] – including Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Ovo Energy, E.On, Schlumberger and Statoil;

The ‘strategy’ company Hill and Knowlton [80] (HK) had run the APPGs communications via the web site, and now runs its secretariat too. HK are another global company with a long history of representing some of the most difficult corporate clients – from the tobacco industry, to Exxon during the Valdez oil spill. HK also have a long reputation for setting up front groups – such as the ‘Citizens for a Free Kuwait’ group which presented influential ‘scripted’ testimony [81] to encourage the US Congress to enter the First Gulf War.

Edelman listed the companies [82] who financed their secretariat function: 3Legs Resources, Arup, Calor Gas, Centrica, CNG Services, Cuadrilla, Dow Chemical Ltd, Energy & Utilities Alliances, Essar Energy, Eversheds, Ground Gas Solutions, Igas Energy, Ineos UK, K&L Gates LLP, Mitsubishi Power Systems Europe Ltd, Macquarie Capital, MWH, Norwest Energy, Petrafiz, Peel Environmental, Quartre Limited, Savills, Shale Gas World UK, Shell, SLR Consulting, Statoil, Squire Sanders, Total, UK Onshore Operators Group, and The Weir Group.

The APPG maintains [83] that it is not run by the fracking industry – although these and related companies dominate the APPG’s Parliamentary accounts [84].

Coincident with Edelman’s departure from supporting the APPG, in October 2014 a new group [85] was set up to carry out detailed studies into the evidence of the impacts of shale gas development. Led by the former Labour minister and recently retired head of the Environment Agency, Chris Smith, the purpose of the group was stated as –

The Task Force on Shale Gas aims to provide a transparent, trusted, independent and impartial platform for public scrutiny, discussion and information about shale gas exploration and production in the UK.

The Task Force has engaged a number of academics and public figures to guide this process:

  • Chris Smith, who while chair of the Environment Agency helped to guide through new licensing procedures [86] for unconventional oil and gas. He is also a non-executive director [87] of Spencer Ogden, a company which specialises in recruitment for the oil and gas industry.
  • Professor Ernest Rutter, University of Manchester. He is one of the signatories of the Guardian ‘letter from academics’. He has spoken in favour of shale gas development, and of his concerns about [88] the “campaign of misinformation, disinformation and sometimes even outright lies has left many people confused and uncertain.”
  • Professor Nigel Brandon, Director of the Sustainable Gas Institute at Imperial College London – funded by BG Group, who have investments in unconventional gas extraction [89] in the USA and Australia.
  • Stephen Tindale, former executive director of Greenpeace and associate fellow at the Centre for European Reform. He has previously written on his blog about “The climate case for shale gas”[90], basing his arguments on the results of the Mackay-Stone review.
  • Michael Holgate, independent energy consultant with over 25 years’ experience in the oil, renewable energy and carbon management sectors, and consultant for shale gas company 3 Legs Resources – who have exploration interests in Poland.

The Task Force has a secretariat to organise its work. This is operated by Edelman – who ran the APPG on Unconventional Gas and Oil’s secretariat. The Task Force is funded [91] by Centrica, Cuadrilla, Dow, Total, The Weir Group and GDF Suez UK – many of whom also fund the APPG.

Given the presently available evidence, what we might speculate about the Task Force on Shale Gas is that: it is a group of experts who have previously expressed varying levels of support for shale gas; which is served by a PR company who have previously represented shale gas interests; which is funded by conventional and unconventional fossil fuel companies; and which has a mission “to provide a transparent, trusted, independent and impartial platform for public scrutiny”.

Though we stand to be corrected by their future conduct, the background and composition of the Task Force on Shale Gas fits the long-standing pattern of an industry front group.

To see why, we need only look to the work of Edelman in Canada [92], where they are promoting an alternative option to the Keystone XL pipeline. This involves creating the kind of ‘public information’ activities we can see within the work of the Task Force here, to counter the messages put out by environmental groups. That programme [93] builds upon the ‘grassroots advocacy’ which Edelman developed in the US [94] for organisations such as the American Petroleum Institute and Walmart.

There is a pre-existing model for a group similar to the Task Force in the US – the Center for Sustainable Shale Development [95]. It too was modelled as a ‘stakeholder’ group where academics, industry and even environmental groups could come together and objectively research the impacts of shale gas. That model was shown to be a front following an investigation by the Public Accountability Initiative [96] – which led some organisations to leave. Their follow-up study [97] showed that, a year later, the CSSD had developed closer industry ties to make up for the funding lost from the departing members.

The Task Force on Shale Gas is, given its provenance, an unlikely vehicle to “to provide a transparent, trusted, independent and impartial platform for public scrutiny, discussion and information about shale gas”. And yet, the Environmental Audit Committee recently stated [98]

[para.83] The Government must fully engage with the work of the Task Force on the climate change and environmental risks, and await its findings before proceeding further with fracking in the UK.

Contrary to their aims, it is difficult to see how the public will accept the work of the Task Force on Shale Gas as a “trusted, independent and impartial platform”. They  cannot demonstrate their ‘impartiality’. Many of its members have previously expressed partisan points of view. It’s similarity to other ‘front groups’ in North America also casts doubt on its suitability as an honest broker to resolve the public’s concerns about shale gas.


[73]    UK Parliament: ‘All-Party Groups’ – http://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/members/apg/

[74]    UK Parliament: ‘Register Of All-Party Groups’ – http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/contents.htm

[75]    Corporate funding of all‑party groups ‘next big scandal’ after huge rise under the coalition, Paul Gallagher, Independent On-line, 18th May 2014 – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/corporate-funding-of-allparty-groups-next-big-scandal-after-huge-rise-under-the-coalition-9391286.html

[76]    Lifting The Lid On Lobbying: The Hidden Exercise Of Power And Influence In The UK, Transparency International UK, February 2015 – http://www.transparency.org.uk/our-work/publications/18-press-releases/download/251_dd6a4ae9b4e9aa45021527dc42211e5d

[77]    APPG on Unconventional Gas and Oil – http://www.appgunconventionaloilandgas.com/

[78]    Edelman UK – http://www.edelman.co.uk/

[79]    Association of Professional Political Consultants: ‘Company Profile, Edelman’ – http://www.appc.org.uk/members/register/register-profile/?company=Edelman

[80]    Hill and Knowlton Strategies – http://www.hkstrategies.co.uk/

[81]    Wikipedia: ‘Nayirah (testimony)           ‘ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nayirah_%28testimony%29

[82]    Association of Professional Political Consultants: ‘Register for 1st September 2013 – 30th November 2013′ – http://www.appc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/13-NOV-REGISTER-26.2.1411.pdf

[83]    MPs lobby group denies fracking funding, EnergyLive, 23rd August 2013 – http://www.energylivenews.com/2013/08/23/mps-lobby-group-denies-fracking-funding/

[84]    UK Parliament: ‘Register of All-Party Groups, Unconventional Oil and Gas’ – http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/unconventional-oil-and-gas.htm

[85]    Former Environment Agency head to lead industry-funded fracking task force, Guardian On-line, 21st October 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/21/former-environment-agency-head-to-lead-industry-funded-fracking-task-force

[86]    Owen Paterson held urgent meeting for fracking boss, documents show, Guardian On-line, 21st March 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/21/owen-paterson-urgent-meeting-fracking-cuadrilla-lord-browne

[87]    UK Parliament: ‘Register of Lords’ Interests’ – http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/standards-and-interests/register-of-lords-interests/

[88]    To frack or not to frack? That is the question for communities, Guardian On-line, 15th August 2013 – http://www.theguardian.com/local-government-network/2013/aug/15/fracking-debate-local-communities-energy

[89]    BG Group: ‘Unconventional gas’ – http://www.bg-group.com/439/sustainability/2013-sustainability-report/environment-and-climate-change/unconventional-gas/

[90]    Climate Answers: ‘The climate case for shale gas’, 5th August 2014 – http://climateanswers.info/2014/05/the-climate-case-for-shale-gas/

[91]    Task Force on Shale Gas: ‘About the Task Force’ – http://www.shaletaskforce.uk/about-the-task-force

[92]    Here’s What Big Oil Has In The Pipes If Keystone Fails, Kate Sheppard, Huffington Post, 17th November 2014 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/17/transcanada-pipeline-oil_n_6174570.html

[93]    The Edelman/TransCanada documents were leaked to Greenpeace in Canada in 2014 –
East Energy Campaign Organizationhttp://www.fraw.org.uk/files/direct_action/tc_edelman_20141.pdf
Grassroots Advocacy Vision Documenthttp://www.fraw.org.uk/files/direct_action/tc_edelman_20142.pdf
Digital Grassroots Advocacy Planhttp://www.fraw.org.uk/files/direct_action/tc_edelman_20143.pdf
Strategic Plan: Quebechttp://www.fraw.org.uk/files/direct_action/tc_edelman_20144.pdf

[94]    The Shadow Lobbying Complex, Lee Fang, The Nation, 20th February 2014 – http://www.theinvestigativefund.org/investigations/politicsandgovernment/1929/the_shadow_lobbying_complex?page=entire

[95]    The Center for Sustainable Shale Development – https://www.sustainableshale.org/

[96]    Big Green Fracking Machine, Public Accountability Initiative, June 2013 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/extreme/pai_2013.pdf

[97]    Anatomy of an Industry Front Group, Public Accountability Initiative, August 2014 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/extreme/pai_2014.pdf

[98]    Environmental risks of fracking, Eighth Report of Session 2014-15, House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, January 2015 – http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmenvaud/856/856.pdf


Case study 1: University funding and NERC’s CDT for Oil and Gas

Case study 2: Academic involvement in major shale gas studies

Case study 3: The Mackay-Stone shale gas climate impacts study

Case study 4: The Science Media Centre and the ‘seeding’ of articles

Case study 5: Guardian ‘open letter’ from academics

Case study 6: The interrelationship between the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Gas and Oil and The Task Force on Shale Gas

Appendix: Information sources for case study diagrams


This report has been commissioned by Talk Fracking

Produced February 2015 by Paul Mobbs Mobbs’ Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN – http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/

© 2015 Paul Mobbs/Mobbs’ Environmental Investigations
Released under the The Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 2.0 Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 UK) – England & Wales – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/fraw/by_nc_sa-uk-2.html

All Internet links listed in this report were accessed during late January/early February 2015.

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