Natascha Engel

Natascha Engel

Credentials

  • B.A. German and Portugese, King’s College, London. [1]
  • M.A. Technical and Specialised Translation, University of Westminster. [2]

Background

Natascha Engel is a former Labour MP and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons who has advocated strongly in favour of the UK‘s fracking industry. She was made a partner at the PR firm, Public First, leading the company’s “infrastructure and regulation” division, in July 2019. [3], [4], [5]

Engel was previously Commissioner for Shale Gas, appointed by the government in October 2018, with the newly-created role described as a “direct communication link between local communities, the shale gas industry and regulators”. She was revealed to have deleted routine email correspondence with fracking companies during this time, following a Freedom of Information request from Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative unit. [6], [7]

Engel resigned from the post in April 2019, six months after being appointed, criticising the government’s policy on seismic tremors from fracking as being too sensitive and complaining about pressure from “highly successful” environmental campaigners. [8], [9]

Engel was MP for North East Derbyshire between 2005 and 2017 and Deputy Speaker for her final two years in parliament. She previously served on the Work and Pensions Committee, Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, the Liaison Committee and the Panel of Chairs. Engel was also chair of the Backbench Business Committee, which decides on business to be debated during “backbench time” in parliament. [3]

After losing her seat in the 2017 general election, Engel set up a PR firm called Palace Yard Communications. She also joined the advisory board of TWC Associates, a political consultancy previously named the Westminster Connection. [10], [11]

Following her defeat, Engel was employed as a consultant for the fracking and chemicals firm INEOS, for which she received criticism from her local Labour party. Engel was commissioned by the company to write an “information booklet” on shale gas exploration. [12]

Before becoming an MP, Engel worked in the trade union movement, joining the Trade Union Congress’s newly-founded Organising Academy during which she worked for the Graphical, Paper and Media Union, now part of Unite. She was employed by current Labour MP John Mann who was at that time the union’s Treasury Liaison Officer. In 1998, Engel became Trade Union Policy Coordinator at the Labour Party, before taking on the role of National Trade Union Liaison. [13], [14]

Engel then worked as programme director at the left-leaning Smith Institute, a think tank set up in memory of the late Labour leader John Smith, during which she co-authored a report entitled “Age of Regions: Meeting the UK Productivity Challenge”. She then became a research assistant for Labour MP John Healey, writing a pamphlet together for the TUC called “Learning to organise”. [15], [14]

Public First

According to its website, Public First helps its clients “understand and influence public opinion through research and targeted communications campaigns”, crafting “policy ideas that Governments can realistically apply to difficult issues”. [16]

Founded by James Frayne, a Conservative political strategist, Public First is based on Tufton Street in Westminster, also home to a large group of free-market thinktanks and lobby groups with strong links to climate science denial and the pro-Brexit movement. [17]

James Frayne has held roles at PR companies Westbourne Communications and Portland Communications, and as campaign director at the anti-tax group, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and Director of Policy and Strategy at the right-leaning thinktank Policy Exchange. [18], [19], [20]

In 2011, Frayne was appointed Director of Communications at the Department for Education by then Education Secretary Michael Gove. In 2012, he worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He has since called for an end to the UK‘s ban on paid-for political advertising on TV and radio. Frayne also managed the successful campaign against a 2004 proposal by then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to create a devolved regional assembly for the North East of England. [21], [22], [23], [24]

Campaigns run by Frayne have been accused of “astroturfing”, whereby supposedly grassroots groups are directed by professional lobbyists. [25]

Stance on Climate Change

June 28, 2019

Engel criticised the adoption of a 2050 net zero emissions target by the UK, calling it “reckless and unrealistic”. In an article for The Times, she wrote: [26]

“As impressive as the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 sounds, other countries will recognise the capacity it has to destroy UK plc for generations to come. The lack of scrutiny of what would be the most expensive and socially disruptive public policy since the Second World War is truly remarkable.” [26]

December 3, 2018

In an article for Politics Home, Engel wrote: [27]

Energy security and our climate are among the most important questions facing us. They deserve a calm and rational debate that needs to go wider than a vocal environmental movement, and that ensures the voices of ordinary constituents are heard.” [27]

Key Quotes

April 28, 2019

In an interview with BBC News following her resignation as Shale Gas Commissioner, Engel said: [28]

“The profile of environmentalism has really been raised and I think the need to reduce our carbon emissions is absolutely urgent and fracking is absolutely one way we can do that.” [28]

She continued:

“These points have been made repeatedly but ministers ignore them and instead allow campaign groups to drive policy.

“So many local businesses face collapse. They have invested vast amounts to ‘get ready for shale’ as the government had told them to. There is, therefore, no purpose in this role.” [28]

In a resignation letter to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, she wrote: [29]

“We know the positive impact [shale gas] has on local communities, but we are choosing to listen to a powerful environmental lobby campaigning against fracking rather than allowing science and evidence to guide our policy making.” [29]

Key Actions

May 20, 2019

Engel wrote an article for PoliticsHome advocating for the expansion of fracking, in which she claimed: “There is nothing inherently unsafe about fracking. It is no more or less dangerous than any other extractive industry.” She also disputed whether renewable energy sources could effectively achieve decarbonisation, stating: “wind and solar may be renewable but they’re not sustainable. The tower of a wind turbine is made of steel (for which you need coke or coal) and the blades are made with polyester (coal and oil).” [34]

June 15, 2020

An investigation by Unearthed revealed that Engel had been in regular correspondence with the CEO of oil and gas company Cuadrilla criticising the negative media coverage of fracking operations, while she was Shale Gas Commissioner at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). [33]

On Engel’s deleted emails, the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that there had been “very serious and egregious record keeping and management failures”. [33]

May 20, 2019

Engel wrote an article for Politics Home entitled “It’s time to stop pandering to myths about fracking”, in which she argued that shale gas is a “safe, reliable and secure source of energy”, criticising the “incredible campaign” that had “succeeded in demonising what is actually just a method of getting gas out of the ground”. [4]

Engel also claimed in the article that “the examples of water contamination [in the US] are nothing to do with the process of fracking” and said that “wind and solar may be renewable but they’re not sustainable”, since wind turbines are made of steel and polyester, which involve fossil fuels. [4]

April 28, 2019

Engel resigned from her position as Shale Gas Commissioner after six months. In her resignation letter to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, she criticised the government’s policy on seismic tremors for being too sensitive, preventing the development of the UK‘s shale gas industry. Engel argued that undermining fracking would make the UK more dependent on imported liquid natural gas, which has a higher carbon footprint. She accused the government of “pandering to what we know to be myths and scare stories” about fracking, describing the safety level for tremors as “really ridiculously low” in an interview. [8]

Engel received support from INEOS, which said it shared her “frustration”, as well as the trade body representing fracking companies, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, which said it was “discomfited” by the reports of Engel’s resignation, adding that “shale gas has never been so important for our environment or our economy.” [8]

Engel wrote an article in The Times the following day entitled “Fracking has a crucial role on the road to renewables”, criticising the Extinction Rebellion climate protest movement and calling Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s “plea” to “feel the fear I feel every day” as a recipe for paralysis. [30]

November 13, 2018

Engel wrote to editors of British newspapers, condemning a “narrative of fear around fracking” and calling current media coverage of earth tremors near the site of Cuadrilla’s fracking well in Preston New Road, Lancashire “highly emotional”. [31]

October 5, 2018

Engel was appointed Commissioner for Shale Gas by the government, which described the role as a “direct communication link between local communities, the shale gas industry and regulators”. She said at the time: [6]

“If extracted safely, shale gas has the potential to be a new, domestic source of energy for the UK. But there is a need for clear, impartial information to be provided to all parties and in particular those local communities most affected by shale gas development.” [6]

Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry said:

“It’s important we get the facts straight on shale gas and that communities can access the best scientific information when engaging with the developers and regulators.

“This new role will provide a single point of contact for local residents to get the information they need and have their questions answered.” [6]

December 1, 2017

INEOS announced that Engel had been commissioned to write an “information booklet” on fracking to help “better explain shale exploration and development” to local communities. Responding to the announcement, she said: [32]

“I saw first-hand what the impacts are on small communities when they hear about a shale gas application near them – even when it’s only for exploratory drilling. What people want is information. They want to know how it will affect them and they want reassurance that it is safe. I hope that this booklet will provide some of those certainties.” [32]

Tom Pickering, Operations Director at INEOS Shale said:

Natascha will give us a better insight into the needs and concerns of residents. As a former Labour MP and trade unionist, Natascha has always made the case for good jobs, as well as health and safety. At the same time, Natascha is well placed to give us a full understanding of local issues and help us to continue to be an open and inclusive organisation.” [32]

Affiliations

Social Media

Natascha Engel does not appear to be active on social media.

Publications

Resources

  1. Biography,” Politics.co.uk. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/btXvq

  2. Natascha Engel,” LinkedIn. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  3. Natascha Engel,” Parliament.uk. Archived July 11, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  4. Natascha Engel. “It’s time to stop pandering to myths about fracking,” Politics Home, May 20, 2019. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/ciQjc

  5. Stephen Delahunty. “Public First hires former House of Commons deputy speaker,” PR Week, July 2, 2019. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/uDxDH

  6. Natascha Engel appointed as Commissioner for Shale Gas,” Gov.uk, October 5, 2018. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/ktS71

  7. Russell Scott, Zach Boren. “UK fracking commissioner admits to deleting correspondence with industry,” Unearthed, April 29, 2019. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/bYlLK

  8. August Graham. “Fracking tsar launches broadside against government’s de facto ban in resignation letter,” City AM, April 28, 2019. Archived July 11, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  9. Fracking tsar quits with attack on ‘highly successful’ environmental activists,” Business Green, April 29, 2019. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/t62mq

  10. PALACE YARD COMMUNICATIONS LTD,” Companies House. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/TIBiG

  11. Homepage,” TWC Associates. Archived March 30, 2018. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/i3cDG

  12. Liam Norcliffe. “Decision by former MP to link up with fracking firm criticised,” Derbyshire Times, December 6, 2017. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/zJMOM

  13. Amber Elliott. “Engel: ‘The last two years have been hell on earth’,” Total Politics, March 27, 2012. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/y8kF4

  14. John Healey, Natascha Engel. “Learning to organise,” TUC, February 2003. Archived August 29, 2006. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  15. Alan Johnson, Dr Peter White, Ed Balls, John Healey, Natascha Engel, Nigel Costley, Richard Samuda, Nick Raynsford, Samantha Gemmell, Tom Riordan. “Age of Regions: Meeting the UK Productivity Challenge,” Smith Institute, 2002. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/i1raA

  16. Homepage,” Public First. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/w1fbA

  17. Our people,” Public First. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/77QIz

  18. David Singleton. “Department for Education hires James Frayne as comms chief,” PR Week, February 24, 2011. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/t1JW8

  19. James Frayne,” Harriman House. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/daUvj

  20. James Frayne,” Policy Exchange. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/DyaQ0

  21. Patrick Wintour. “Michael Gove opts for a better Frayne of mind in retelling message,” Guardian, February 25, 2011. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/eEMnZ

  22. Andy McSmith. “Diary: Michael Gove sends a staffer stateside to work with Republicans,” The Independent, June 28, 2012. Archived July 11, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  23. James Frayne. “Why should we lift the ban on political advertising on UK TV,” Portland Communications, October 2016. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/pl0yk

  24. Robert Watts. “Low-tax campaigner who saw off Prescott,” The Telegraph, January 15, 2006. Archived July 11, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  25. John Dickens. “Vote Leave campaigner and Tory donor behind Parents and Teachers for Excellence campaign,” BBC Teach, September 22, 2016. Archived July 11, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  26. Natascha Engel. “Net-zero carbon target is reckless and unrealistic,” The Times, June 28, 2019. Archived July 11, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  27. Natascha Engel. “Energy security and our climate are of crucial importance. They deserve a calm and rational debate,” Politics Home, December 3, 2018. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URLhttp://archive.fo/Ca1iR

  28. Roger Harrabin. “Fracking tsar resigns after six months over ‘ridiculous’ rules,” BBC News, April 28, 2019. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/cYTLu

  29. Fracking tsar quits after six months and blames eco activists,” Guardian, April 28, 2019. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/2GLsb

  30. Natascha Engel. “Fracking has a crucial role on the road to renewables,” The Times, April 29, 2019. Archived July 11, 2019. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  31. James Booth. “Government shale gas commissioner slams ’emotional’ narrative around fracking,” City AM, November 13, 2018. Archived July 10, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/TrOOl

  32. INEOS Shale commission former MP Natascha Engel,” INEOS Shale, December 1, 2017. Archived July 11, 2019. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/mDOsZ

  33. Russell Scott, Zach Boren. “Government forced to release shale gas commissioner’s deleted emails,” Unearthed, June 15, 2020. Archived July 8, 2020. Archive.fo URL: http://archive.fo/ubzh5

  34. Natascha Engel. “It’s time to stop pandering to myths about fracking,” PoliticsHome, May 20, 2019. Archived February 9, 2021. Archive.vn URL: https://archive.vn/UNr2l 

Other Resources

Photo credit: Channel 4 News

Related Profiles

APCO Worldwide Background APCO has been described as “one of the world's most powerful PR firms.” [1], [2] According to its agency profile at O'Dwyers, “APCO Worldwide is a global c...
Hugh W. Ellsaesser Credentials Ph.D., Meteorology. [1] Background Hugh W. Ellsaesser, born in 1920, is a meteorologist by training and retired “guest scientist” at the Lawrence Liverm...
Alfred (Al) Pekarek Credentials Ph.D., University of Wyoming (1974). [1] B.A. University of Minnesota-Twin (1965). [1] Background Alfred (Al) Pekarek is a former associate...
Benny Josef Peiser Credentials Ph.D. , University of Frankfurt (1993). Peiser studied political science, English, and sports science. [1], [2] Background Benny Peiser is a sports ...