Drilling plans hit opposition

journal and gazette web graphic
journal and gazette web graphic

AN ENERGY company applying to drill for coal bed methane in Falkirk district has emphasised its processes do not involve the controversial ‘fraccing’ technique, which has recently made national headlines.

Hydraulic fracturing, used in shale gas extraction, was temporarily banned in Britain last year after two earth tremors in Blackpool.

Blackness Community Council lodged an official objection earlier this week with Falkirk Council over Dart Energy’s proposal to establish 14 new wells near Airth, plus install gas distribution and water treatment facilities.

With existing planning approval it has already been working with test wells since 2004 - almost 20 have been drilled without incident - and wants to produce natural gas for the local network from coal seam resources.

The firm says its investment, to provide a secure domestic source of clean energy amid dwindling North Sea gas supplies, will support local jobs and business and help lower energy bills.

Coal bed methane (CBM) would be released via a dewatering process, travelling in underground pipes for transfer to the network. Gathered water would be treated to SEPA standards before being discharged into the Firth of Forth.

But Merville Archibald, Blackness convenor, said: “We consider the application is premature as there has not been a national review of the technology or appropriate regulation put in place.”

Set to follow suit in asking for its refusal is Bo’ness Community Council.

Their counterparts at Larbert, Stenhousemuir and Torwood Community Council plus Shieldhill and California Community Council have given the application the thumbs down.

Objectors have expressed environmental plus health and safety concerns and claimed that, if approved, it could be the thin end of the wedge of such production, which they say not enough is known about.

Dart Energy holds a UK Government-issued exploration and development licence for an area 330 sq km in size, which includes the western half of Bo’ness.

Any potential further wells would also be subject to the planning process.

A Dart Energy spokesman said: “We are in daily communication with representatives from local communities, individuals, residents associations and businesses to help people understand our plans.

“Dart Energy follows all the established UK oilfield regulations and oil industry best practice in all of our CBM operations.

“Our planning application makes it clear that our water based drilling fluids contain only safe, non toxic, biodegradable additives, the same type of water-based biodegradable fluids used in conventional wells throughout the UK.

“Concerns have been raised over hydraulic fracture stimulation (‘fraccing’) fluids but we do not use this technique and our wells are designed in a way that means they cannot be fracced.”

No comment was made by the firm on protests in Australia that halted pilot CBM drilling there.

Falkirk Council’s planning committee will be requested by officials at its January 30 meeting to hold a subsequent hearing on the application.

Contributors such as the applicant, consultees and third party objectors could be invited to any hearing. Officers would then produce a report for councillors.

By yesterday (Thursday) over 380 public comments had been lodged.