The former boss of British Petroleum, who presided over a declining safety record before he perjured himself in court documents, has spoken up in favour of fracking.
Lord Browne is now boss of fracking company Cuadrilla Resources, which is drilling for oil in the UK. Still a senior figure in the UK Government, Browne told the UK Telegraph that fracking is in UK’s “national purpose” and is more environmentally friendly than importing gas.
The 65-year-old, dubbed the Cuadrilla Killa by opponents, stepped down from BP six years ago in dramatic circumstances, having committed perjury as he fought a high court battle to keep his sex life private. He was high-handedly entertaining his boyfriend on his Corporate expense account and took out an injunction to prevent the media reporting the fact.
A series of books on BP have blamed Browne for concentrating on acquisitions and cost-cutting rather than the nuts and bolts of the business, leading, some have said, to Texas City, where 15 people died, and eventually to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, in which 11 people died. Browne has always vehemently denied the charge, pointing out that the number of engineers employed by the company rose under his command.
His friends agree: “It’s a bit much to blame John for something that happened three years after he left. The fact is that most senior business people still regard him very highly.”
But the Establishment does tend to support its own. The fact is that in 2005, when Lord Browne was running BP, the oil company’s Texas City refinery suffered a catastrophic explosion, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others. The company was hit with a record fine for hundreds of safety violations, yet Lord Browne kept his job.
Two years later, he slipped out a falsehood in court about his private life and was forced to resign. The conclusion is unavoidable: perjury is regarded as a more serious failing than presiding over the death of 15 employees.
His pro-Fracking comments came as Cuadrilla’s potential shale oil site outside the village of Balcombe in West Sussex ((local MP, Francis Maude – Cabinet Office Minister – appointed Browne to the Government) attracted hundreds of protesters this weekend, angry at the potential environmental fallout from the method. Fracking involves pumping water, gas and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture the rocks and release the oil or gas. However, opponents fear it could pollute water and cause earthquakes.
Cuadrilla had been drilling to explore the feasibility of extracting oil at Balcombe, but late last week halted its operations following safety advice from local police.
Along with IGas Energy, Cuadrilla is at the forefront of the UK’s burgeoning fracking industry. The company, whose shareholders include Riverstone Holdings of which Lord Browne is a partner, has licences for 10 sites across the country where fracking could be a possibility.
“This is about getting domestic resources. Domestic gas is more green than imported gas, and we need to explore as much domestic resource as we can,” said Lord Browne.
“We need to be patient and very clear about what we want to do. It’s a national purpose, it’s right for our energy security, and, if done safely, we should pursue it.”
Lord Browne also pointed to the financial benefits for communities situated near fracking sites. Energy companies including Cuadrilla have pledged £100,000 up front and then a 1pc share of the revenues if fracking succeeds.
“We strongly support the benefits flowing from gas and oil to the local economies. The Government has said communities will get 1pc of the revenue, that’s not 1pc of the profit, but 1pc of the gross revenue, which is quite something,” said Lord Browne.
In the City of London, Browne is still viewed as one of the most accomplished business leader of his generation, but there are allegations of dishonesty and illicit dealings which will not go away. In his book, Vulture’s Picnic (buy it in the UK), journalist Greg Palast documents how an associate of Lord Browne accompanied ex-prime minister Margaret Thatcher on a “business trip” to Azerbaijan. The associate carried a bag which contained a cheque for $30m – given to him by Lord Browne.
The cheque was intended to facilitate a deal with the then Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev. At the time Browne was head of BP, which was looking to exploit Azerbaijani oilfields. The cheque was intended to “sweeten” the deal.See more here.
And Browne lied to the High Court during a six-month legal battle to block stories about his relationship with boyfriend Jeff Chevalier.
He claimed that he had met Mr Chevalier for the first time while jogging in Battersea Park in 2002.
But in fact he met him through an escort agency called suitedandbooted.com which has around 100 young men on its books.
The judge, Mr Justice Eady, suggested that the distinction between the two accounts of how Lord Browne met his lover might be “of little materiality to the primary issues in the case”. But he added that the BP chief “clearly thought it important at that time and quite deliberately, and casually, chose to lie to the court about it”.
His departure cost him up to $25 million in bonuses and pension payments.
An insight into his life was provided by Mr Chevalier’s sister Courtney, 21, who said that the businessman funded a champagne lifestyle for her brother – one of six children brought up in a single-parent household in Toronto, Canada.
Miss Chevalier, who stayed regularly with her brother and Lord Browne at his two London homes and his house in Cambridge, told the Daily Mirror: “Jeffrey had free rein of John’s [Lord Browne’s] credit cards. Once, when he had problems getting back into the UK, John wired 25,000 Canadian dollars into his bank. Jeffrey frittered it away. It was incredible. He could spend pounds 1,200 on a suit. It was quite shocking.
“Once we went to a sushi restaurant in London and Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were on the next table.
“Jeffrey even saw Elton John’s place in Venice. He said it was amazing inside.
“It all seemed so surreal. Tony Blair was often at some of the parties my brother went to. That sort of thing just became normal for him.”
Mr Chevalier’s sister also proffesed to be bemused as to why Lord Browne had gone to such lengths to suppress details of the four-year affair. “I am sure the public would not care about his homosexuality so why cause my brother and himself so much grief.”
In the court judgment, Lord Browne was criticised for trying to undermine the character of Mr Chevalier. He said it was not only Lord Browne’s “willingness to tell a deliberate lie to the court, persisted in for about two weeks”. But he also criticised him for his willingness “casually to trash the reputation of Mr Chevalier and to discredit him in the eyes of the court”. Lord Browne had alleged that his former lover was “a liar, unstable and adversely affected by dependence on alcohol and illegal drugs”.
During a legal battle that lasted almost six months behind the closed doors of the High Court, Lord Browne was accused of using BP’s resources and manpower to support or assist Mr Chevalier. He was alleged to have used BP computers and company staff to set up and then wind up a company for his lover. He was also accused of ordering a senior BP employee to run a personal errand by delivering cash to Mr Chevalier. He denies any improper use of company resources.
According to the World Development Movement (WDM), up to a third of all coalition ministers have past or present links with fossil fuel companies or with financial and services companies supporting oil or gas projects.
Further information can be found at http://stopfyldefracking.org.uk/, and also on the RAFF facebook page at
Other local groups include:
Frack Free Fylde: http://www.frackfreefylde.com/ – you can also find them on facebook at
Ribble Estuary Against Fracking http://www.reaf.org.uk/ – also on facebook at
See a map of current and proposed locations licensed for fracking at http://frack-off.org.uk/locations/
The Friends of the Earth international Fracking and Shale Gas campaign hub can be found at
*Partner and MD, Riverstone
*Chair, Accenture global energy board
*Member of advisory board for climate change, Deutsche Bank
*Lead non-executive board member, Cabinet Office
*Vice-president, Flora and Fauna International
*Member of the board of governors, Folger Shakespeare Library
*Trustee, Jewish Museum
Director, Fairfield Energy
Chairman of the board of trustees, Tate Galleries
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