“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded,” runs the opening line of Leonard Cohen’s famous 1988 hit. Those bitterly pessimistic words, green campaigners claim, could now be applied to the extraction of shale gas under Lancashire.
The close relationship between the fracking company Cuadrilla and the British Geological Survey (BGS) has been revealed by a cache of emails in which executives discuss attending one of the Canadian songwriter’s concerts together.
The exchanges, between the private firm hoping to exploit the UK’s shale gas resources and the public body tasked with providing the Government with impartial advice on the safety of the controversial extraction technique, were made in the months leading up to the disclosure of the UK’s reserves last year.
The correspondence, which has been redacted to protect the identities of the employees involved, was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Greenpeace, which says it wants to “open up the relationship between energy companies and the Government”.
One email, sent by a Cuadrilla employee to a BGS staff member in March 2013, complains that the fracking firm has been hampered in its efforts to drill exploratory wells in Lancashire due to the large quantity of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) it has to complete. “We have basically been slapped with planning EIA after planning EIA just to drill a well,” they wrote, adding: “Hopefully we can catch up some time this year anyway for a beer.”
Another email from Cuadrilla to the BGS in the same month describes how the firm’s representatives met a team of scientists from Durham University in which “the topic of media ignorance and incentive for oversimplification came up, as it always does”. Cuadrilla suggests working with the BGS and Durham academics to hold an “immersion experience” for journalists so they can be educated about fracking.
“I am sure we could stump up a fund from several sources to defray the cost,” the Cuadrilla employee writes. “The whole thing is non-commercial. No Cuadrillans in the room or any other actors.” Both the BGS and Durham agree that such an event would be a “good idea”, but in the end it never took place.
In July, the subject of the Leonard Cohen gig is discussed. “A def def yes for Leonard? If so I’ll get tix this week,” writes a BGS staff member to their contact at Cuadrilla, who politely declines the offer with the reply: “I’d better skip Leonard 50/50 chance I’ll be away.”
Displaying an impressive knowledge of Cohen’s back catalogue, Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Lawrence Carter said: “We don’t want to criticise work colleagues for attending Leonard Cohen gigs together, but now that Everybody Knows, let’s hope in The Future the BGS aren’t too Partisan to let Cuadrilla know when there are no Diamonds in the Mine.”
A spokesman for Cuadrilla said the company “doesn’t feel it is best placed to comment on the merits of seeing Leonard Cohen live”, but added: “We are happy to confirm that we do communicate appropriately with the British Geographical Society and relevant academic institutions as part of our exploration plans for shale gas.”
The BGS did not respond to a request for comment.