The second week of the Dart Energy public inquiry has heard claims some of the information provided by opponents to the scheme amounted to “scaremongering”.
Yesterday (Wednesday) the Scottish Government reporters who will determine the company’s planning application to drill coal bed methane gas from Letham Moss were told by biological scientist Dr Andrew Buroni he was not surprised it had led to communities in the area becoming “distressed and anxious”.
Dr Buroni, an expert on the impact oil and gas projects can have on health and the environment, was hired by Dart Energy to study its environmental statement to the inquiry and make his own assessment of the possible dangers its drilling could pose to the community.
He has also been able to study the written evidence of other experts who are supporting objectors to the planning application, Concerned Communities of Falkirk, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Australian chemist Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith.
At a public meeting in Falkirk last year Dr Lloyd-Smith spoke about the impact methane gas developments have had in Australia and America and warned of the “implications” of Dart’s plans. Yesterday Dr Buroni took issue with what she had to say.
He told the inquiry: “She said she ‘trusted’ people to know she was speaking about Australia but I can’t help but feel it led to scaremongering and without doubt caused local communities distress and anxiety. Her evidence showed a misunderstanding of hazard and risk. Parts of it were not credible and some parts were biased. Her evidence had no bearing on the Dart project and did not present evidence of risk at any point.
“My overall conclusion is no adverse health outcomes have been identified and there is no evidence to suggest there will be as a result of these operations. This is not Australia. The regulatory process here is there to protect the environment and health. It’s a national policy. The opponents to this proposal have not understood that.”
Advocate for the objectors Sir Crispin Agnew challenged Dr Buroni on the impact of the chemicals which will be used in drilling fluids as part of the process to break up the coal seams underground to release the methane gas.
He said they will include benzine and claimed studies show there is no safe level of benzine exposure and benzine can cause leukemia.
But Dr Buroni said; “I have studied the chemicals in the drilling fluids and assessed them for hazard. The chemical composition of the coal seams have also been considered as part of the environmental statement and I have no information to add to that.
“Filling your car up with petrol or having a fizzy drink subjects you to more exposure to benzine than will come out of a Dart water discharge tank at Airth. This facility is being designed to protect the environment and health.”
Sir Crispin asked Dr Buroni if he accepted Dart’s proposals could have led to people living in the area being so concerned their mental health might suffer?
Dr Buroni said: “They would be anxious by what they have heard, but many parts of that evidence were flawed and would have added to their fears.”
Over the last seven days the inquiry has heard experts agree to disagree. It is expected to finish next Friday with two days the following week allowed for closing arguments from both parties to be heard.