Members of the influential Energy and Climate Change Committee, led by chairman Tim Yeo, rounded on Charles Hendry and Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) official Simon Toole.

Mr Hendry, minister for climate change and energy, was told by Mr Yeo a lack of transparency was ‘retarding rather than advancing’ the cause of shale gas.

The meeting heard shale had the potential to become a ‘game-changer’ in world energy markets – having already transformed the US from a major importer to an exporter of gas.

However, a lack of regulation and environmental scrutiny of shale, which the committee heard was twice as carbon intensive as coal, was not helped by DECC’s approach.

The committee was angered that DECC had carried out a behind closed doors investigation into shale without informing it.

Mr Yeo said: “The suspicion in the United States of the environmental impacts of shale gas has been greatly increased by the reluctance of the companies and, in some cases the regulators, to disclose to the public what’s actually happening.”

Mr Hendry, who apologised for not telling the committee, said: “I think if people see there are things going on behind closed doors, which they can’t understand and don’t know about they become suspicious often without warrant.”

Mr Yeo also asked why Cuaddrilla, the only business at the time investigating shale gas in the UK, was not consulted by DECC, he said: “It seems a bit strange the one company already started operating in this country was not asked for evidence.”

DECC licensing, exploration and development director, Simon Toole, was forced to admit he didn’t know who had been contacted for the ‘low key’ investigation and said it was an ‘oversight’ not to contact cuaddrilla.

MPs also asked Mr Hendry whether the UK should take the lead on establishing Europe wide regulations on drilling for shale, however the minister felt this would only bring regulation down to the ‘lowest common denominator’.

He also dismissed concerns other countries, for instance Poland, would exploit lower levels of regulation to get ahead of the UK on shale, claiming the population there were as concerned as in Britain about environmental impacts.

Luke Walsh

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