Major safety concerns highlighted as Dart Energy public inquiry opens

Battle lines are drawn as a public inquiry into proposals to drill for gas in the Forth valley starts today in Falkirk.

Dart Energy has plans to drill 22 wells to extract methane from the coal bed deep underground in an area near Airth known as Letham Moss. Dart Energy, said: “We are pleased to have the opportunity through the public inquiry of demonstrating the important strategic role gas will need to play in delivering safe, secure and economical energy to the UK in in the coming decades as we transition to a low carbon economy. We will seek through the public inquiry to address and allay with scientific rigour the concerns of the communities.”

They have a lot of convincing to do with more than 2500 objections lodged. Stirling councillor Mark Ruskell, said: “You cannot overestimate the importance of this inquiry, it will effectively decide whether the entire dirty gas industry has a future in the UK or not. It’s been left to communities to defend our local and global environment while government has fiddled around with half-baked policy. Nothing short of a moratorium on these developments until key concerns can be resolved will do.”

The local campaign group, Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas (FAUG) has worked hard to finance legal representation and expert opinion. For example, David K. Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, University of Glasgow, has concluded that the planned development “poses a threat to groundwater resources over the entire area of the [Proposed Development Area], and there is the additional risk that fugitive methane may even reach the surface”, and in his view, “the development should not be permitted”.

This concern is reinforced by a Rob Edwards story in the Sunday Herald that an internal report from SEPA, warns of a “high risk” of water pollution from drilling for underground gas. Dart Energy owns one of the faulty boreholes identified in the report.

The threat posed to wildlife by fracking was also highlighted in The Independent. They highlight a new report that identifies vast swathes of environmentally sensitive land across Britain that could be excavated for shale oil and gas. That has brought together a big environmental alliance calling for fracking no-go areas to be declared.

The wider health risks of fracking are highlighted by Professor Michael Depledge from Exeter University who said, “When considering the viability of fracking, it will be important for health impact assessments to include the long term implications of waste disposal, fugitive methane emissions escaping from the ground or the well, and other implications for human health – not just analyses of the environmental and public health risks during active development. With a technically challenging and global industry it’s vitally important that data and expertise is readily shared.”

If that isn’t enough, the TUC has weighed in with its evidence to the House of Lords select committee inquiry. It concludes, “The implementation of new natural gas extraction technologies, continual changes in the gas development industry, rapid growth of drilling operations in new areas, the need for transparency and disclosure of the full range of chemicals used in fracking, and variations in operations between companies pose significant challenges for occupational health which have yet to be comprehensively addressed.”

All of this only deals with safety and environmental concerns. We have previously highlighted economic doubts as to the viability of unconventional gas. Not to mention the potential involvement of Ineos.

Cameron and Osborne may think unconventional gas is the way ahead for UK energy generation. But I doubt if they will be visiting Falkirk anytime soon!

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