- Dart Energy facing inquiry in Scotland
- Already kicked out of Australia by opposition
- Applications for first UK fracking production
- Record 2,500 objections from local people
- Rejected by Falkirk and Stirling Councils
- Dart appealing to Scottish Government
- 27 community (90,000 people) fighting back
- Threat of over 1,000 CBM wells if approved
- Inquiry begins 18th March 2014, Falkirk
- Lasts at least 3 weeks, no result for months
- Meanwhile Dart turning its sights on England
- 3-5 CBM well drilling campaign in England
- £24m GDF Suez investment driving activity
- Local communities are mobilising in response
As troubled Australian fracking company Dart Energy faces an inquiry into its flagship project in Scotland, it’s worth reviewing the global resistance from local communities which has lead up to this point. Dart are desperately trying to push ahead with a multi-well drilling programme in the North West and East Midlands, while in Scotland their application for the first UK production of unconventional gas is the subject of a major public inquiry.
In 2012, Dart Energy was forced to abandon exploration in it’s licence areas in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. With community resistance growing in Australia Dart refocused it’s attention on Airth in Scotland calling it their flagship European unconventional gas prospect. Pilot testing and exploratory work had been carried out in the area without the vast majority of the local population knowing, having been passed by planning officers under delegated powers.
When Dart submitted plans for 22 new coal bed methane (CBM) wells on 14 sites with over 20km of pipeline to dump toxic waste water into the Firth of Forth, Falkirk and Stirling councils received over 2,500 objections to the planning application. A record number of objections. Extracting all the gas which Dart is bragging about to investors could eventually require over 1,000 CBM wells to be drilled in Dart’s central Scotland licence area.
Falkirk Council decided they did not have sufficient in-house expertise to determine the application and appointed engineering consultancy AMEC to peer review the case. Both Falkirk and Stirling councils returned non-determinations. Dart appealed to the Scottish Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) who referred the applications back to the Councils for a decision. Both councils now oppose the application on grounds of cumulative impact and the precautionary principle. A full scale inquiry starts today, Tuesday the 18th March.
The Concerned Communities of Falkirk (CCoF) are a group of Falkirk residents who came together as a result of Dart’s application. Together with Larbert, Stenhousemuir and Torwood Community Council they have co-created the UK’s first Community Charter which is being tested as a material consideration in the planning inquiry, representing the communities’ voice.
Airth Parish are the ninth Community Council (CC) to agree to be represented by CCoF at the Planning Inquiry which will run for 3-4 weeks. They join seven more Community Councils; Avonbridge & Standburn; Blackness; Bo’ness ; Bonnybridge ; Larbert, Stenhousemuir & Torwood ; Reddingmuirhead & Wallacestone and Shieldhill & California . As well as the now defunct Grangemouth Community Council who objected to the Planning Application last year. Also involved are 18 West Fife coastal villages, who are concerned about Dart’s plans to dump toxic produced water into the Firth of Forth, bring the total represented inhabitants to over 90,000.
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) on two occasions declined to attend the PI and proposed to rely on their written submissions. The DPEA Reporters have used their powers to insist SEPA participate in the inquiry. In the run up to the inquiry an internal document has come to light in which SEPA state that the deep boreholes required for unconventional gas exploration “presents a high risk to the water environment”. The Scottish Herald has reported that the drilling could pose a threat to Iron Bru production.
The Central Belt houses 70% of the population and is earmarked for all 3 unconventional gas technologies. Shale Oil/Gas, Coal Bed Methane and Underground Coal Gasification. The Scottish Government is minded to introduce buffer zones around residential areas as has been done in New South Wales, but communities don’t believe this goes far enough and is problematic as it pushes the industry into more remote areas where people are less able to defend themselves. Dart have refused to divulge their full development plan for PEDL 133. CCoF have called for a full public health impact assessment based on the full field development plan.
With it’s plans derailed at Airth, a number of high profile departures from the directorship and a shareholder revolt in Australia Dart have abandoned all other plans and moved their sights to the Bowland Shale in the north of England. In partnership with GDF Suez and TOTAL they are proposing to drill both CBM and shale exploration wells in the north of England.
At the beginning of March, Dart started work on 4 new exploratory wells in the Midlands. Community resistance to the development is growing rapidly with the region’s first anti-fracking event seeing over 300 people descend on Dart’s Farndon site, near Cheshire. Dart are also planning to conduct seismic testing in central England and want to start drilling exploratory shale wells there soon.