Public inquiry into gas drilling plan for Airth ends

Dart Energy's site at Letham Moss which the company has targeted for commercial drilling
Dart Energy's site at Letham Moss which the company has targeted for commercial drilling

The public local inquiry into Dart Energy’s planning application to drill coal bed methane gas from land outside Airth finished on Thursday.

After three weeks of debate before Scottish Government Reporters it ended with Dart inviting objectors to Letham Moss to see the site for themselves.

Closing submissions will be made by MrGordon Steele QC for the company and Sir Crispin Agnew QC for objectors Concerned Communities of Falkirk over two days, starting on April 15.

The inquiry was called after Dart Energy appealed against the time it was taking Falkirk Council to come to a decision on its bid to drill 22 wells and build a gas delivery and water treatment works and pipeline. It has heard evidence from geologists, hydrogeologists, professors, doctors, lawyers, Falkirk Council planners, a local community council and Friends of the Earth Scotland.

It was the first public local inquiry into commercial unconventional gas extraction to be held in the UK and the planning application lodged in August 2012 attracted over 2500 objections.

Reporters have heard concerns about the dangers to health and the environment and quality of community life Dart Energy’s CBM development might pose as a result of the drilling, with worries about pollution, noise, air quality and climate change high on the agenda. They have also been warned of the threat of earthquakes hitting the area because holes will be bored nearly 3600 feet below the ground to reach the gas.

Dart experts have argued fears have been based on “unfounded speculation” and neighbours have been the victims of “scaremongering” tactics - with particular reference to the impact recovering methane gas using the hydraulic fracturing process or ‘fracking’ in Australia has had on health.

Alan Pollock who prepared Dart’s environmental impact statement for the inquiry said: “Many people have seriously misjudged what it being proposed at Airth. Some of the situations local communities have been described are more relevent to Australia than here where something completely different is being proposed. If I was a member of the public, hearing something similar could happen on my doorstep, I would have been very concerned. But the reality is this development will be as “squeaky clean” as anything the oil and gas industry operates anywhere in the world. It is a process operating at thousands of wells across the world using the leading edge of technology governed by one of the most rigorous regulatory regimes in the world.”

Dart Energy has carried out environmental studies, produced a waste management plan, responded to the potential threat of uncontrolled methane escaping into the atmosphere and detailed the venting and flaring needs for the site. It has also stressed it will fully comply with all the requirements asked for by the regulatory authorities to secure all the permits and licences it needs to operate.

Sir Crispin Agnew for CCoF has maintained Dart has failed to provide vital details in support of its application with particular regard to the chemicals which will be used in the process or give assurances the Letham Moss application will not be the first of many.

nIn our report last week we said meetings organised by Dart were “only attended by 42 per cent of the people involved.” This should have read “42 people”.