Slovene Media: UK’s Hunt Came to Lobby for “Fracking” in Pomurje

By , 27 Feb 2019, 16:32 PM Politics
Jeremy Hunt (left) Miro Cerar (right) meeting on Ferbuary 21st, 2019 Jeremy Hunt (left) Miro Cerar (right) meeting on Ferbuary 21st, 2019 Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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February 27, 2019

In an article by Siol, published today and titled “He talked about ‘Soviet vassals’ and lobbied for ‘fracking’ in Pomurje” (Govoril o "sovjetskih vazalih", lobiral pa za "fracking" v Pomurju), the authors claim that one of the main reasons behind the British Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt’s visit to Slovenia last week was to lobby for environmental permits for the ecologically controversial gas extraction in Pomurje.

Although most of the Slovene public remembers Mr Hunt’s visit last week for his patronising appraisal of Slovenia’s progress from a “Soviet vassal state” to an EU and NATO member, little has so far been said about the alleged other purpose of his visit, nor the topics of discussion with his Slovenian counterpart, the Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, beyond Brexit-related matters.

Hunt brought up environmental permits for “fracking” at Petišovci

However, the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed to Siol.net that the Petišovci project was one of the topics discussed during the visit. Siol quotes the Ministry’s response to their inquiry as follows:

"The Foreign Minister also addressed investment cooperation, including the investment of the British company Ascent Resources in Petišovci. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, explained that the procedures in this case are in line with Slovenian legislation, in accordance with the prescribed high environmental standards.”

According to information Siol claims to have obtained from diplomatic circles, the Petišovci project was one of the priority topics in Hunt’s meeting with Cerar. Furthermore, Ascent Resources CEO Colin Hutchinson was also in Slovenia last week, albeit only meeting with partners on the project. Hutchinson emphasised that he did not meet with the British Ambassador on this trip, and has never met Jeremy Hunt.

Environmental permits for “fracking” at Petišovci

ARSO (Agencija Republike Slovenije za okolje, the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning) is currently deciding on two environmental permits applied for by Ascent Resources and a local partner and minority shareholder Geoenergo: a permit that would allow for the operation of a gas processing plant, and another to boost production of the two existing wells by the method of “hydraulic stimulation”.

Although ARSO refused to comment on the possible results, Siol reports that based on unofficial information it will order the applicant to carry out an environmental assessment, which in turn means that no “fracking” permits will be granted for now.

Meanwhile Leben offers his resignation to PM Šarec

Hunt’s visit coincided with what Siol termed a “media war” against Jure Leben due to controversial second-rail model public procurement when he still served as a state secretary at the Ministry of Infrastructure of the previous government. Jure Leben offered his resignation to the Prime Minister Marjan Šarec yesterday. The news of his departure has been met with approval on social media by Ascent Resources shareholders, who have seen Mr. Leben as one of the main obstacles for gas extraction in Petišovci.

Siol also claims that the British Ambassador, Sophie Honey, met with Mr Leben last year to discuss the issue, a meeting that the report says ended with “raised voices”. Leben then made a report to the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (Komisiji za preprečevanje korupcije), while the British Embassy in Ljubljana issued a strong denial that it had attempted to influence the decision of the Slovenian authorities.

All our stories on fracking in Slovenia can be found here.

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