CPRE complains to the Information Commissioner
‘Commercial confidentiality’ is preventing adequate regulation of Cuadrilla’s exploration for shale gas at its Preston New Road site.
In October 2018, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations, we requested the disclosure of the OGA-approved Hydraulic Fracture Plan (HFP) and other specified documents relating to Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site.
After 20 days (the standard time allowed for a reply), the OGA said they would need a further 20 days because of the complexity and volume of the information we had requested. We protested in vain that the few documents we had sought were immediately available in digital form to the OGA as they were the basis of the OGA’s current regulation of Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road site.
When after 40 days the OGA replied to our enquiry, two of the documents we had requested were withheld; the reason given was their commercial confidentiality; together, these two documents comprised just nine A4 pages. In response, we requested an internal review by the OGA, which is a necessary first step before a dissatisfied enquirer can make a complaint to the Information Commissioner; the form of this request was a detail critique of the inadequacies of the OGA’s handling of our enquiry. The result was that the two withheld documents were disclosed on the spurious grounds that they were no longer commercially confidential because of public statements made by Cuadrilla.
We have now referred the matter to the Information Commissioner in a detailed document (please see the link below) complaining at the lack of candour exhibited by the OGA and explaining why commercial confidentiality is preventing the OGA effectively regulating the onshore exploration for shale gas.
Cuadrilla’s operations at its Preston New Road site have been impeded by surface tremors caused by hydraulic fracture of shale rocks at depth sufficient to exceed the red threshold of the Traffic Light System. That this is happening is indicative of failure to properly implement the OGA-approved HFP. There are grounds for believing that Cuadrilla has been operating without adequate knowledge where the formation boundaries are, nor where the faults are, because of failure to interpret the microseismic data adequately, which until very recently it has kept secret on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. Not even the OGA (or the Environment Agency) was in possession of these data, so has not been in a position to effectively regulate Cuadrilla’s hydraulic fracturing activities (please see our submission to the Information Commissioner for details).
We believe that, in the public interest, there are no grounds for secrecy in the conduct of hydraulic fracturing and other technologies with the same objective (e.g. acidisation) – full disclosure must be of the essence.