Scottish environment watchdog accused of supporting ‘fracking cheerleaders’

A watchdog has been accused of supporting “fracking cheerleaders” to win public approval for the widely criticised method of gas extraction.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) participates in meetings at Whitehall to determine communication strategies regarding new methods of oil and gas extraction.

The meetings are organised by the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, established by UK ministers and given a remit to endorse the new techniques.

Documents shared with SEPA and disclosed under freedom of information laws show that the regulator called on the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to answer questions over why fracking was banned in other jurisdictions but not the UK.

They reveal that it was suggested at the summits, held every six weeks since October last year, that “more tangible” terminology regarding fracking should be used to deal with negative views about it.

It was also suggested the public would trusts scientists and regulators more than they would government or industry.

SEPA insisted it was “completely neutral” on the issue of fracking.

Neil Findlay

But Neil Findlay, Labour MSP, said the revelations gave rise to “very serious questions”.

The UK government supports fracking while the Scottish government is still undecided, having issued a moratorium on it.

Mr Findlay said: “I understand SEPA would want to be prepared whatever the decision made on fracking but these documents show how they are working hand-in-glove with the UK government and are going way beyond simply understanding the issue of fracking.”

In one meeting “lessons learned” after people in Lancashire fiercely rejected fracking developments were shared with regulators.

At another between SEPA and regulators, Emma Taylor, senior policy officer at SEPA, sent an email on developments in Scotland but asked that no minutes be taken.

A reply to her email said: “Yes, we’ve all agreed to stop doing minutes.”

Attendees at communications meetings also declined to take minutes, another email stated: “like last time we will not do a full note of the meeting”.

Mr Findlay added: “What is most alarming is this group of regulators have decided what they are doing is so sensitive they should no longer record in writing what they are discussing.”

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