The UK’s first Public Inquiry into a planning application for commercial unconventional gas extraction at Airth, will begin on March 18th in Falkirk.

Over 2,500 objections were made to Dart Energy’s plans, which would be the most advanced unconventional gas project in the UK.

Inquiry dates:

18 February – deadline for expert witnesses pre-cognitions
4 March – deadline for rebuttals of pre-cognitions
18 March – first day of Inquiry

(The Inquiry is currently scheduled to run for 3 consecutive weeks, a detailed timetable is anticipated shortly)

Other key dates:

June 2014 – final draft Scottish Planning Policy published, includes proposals for buffer zones around unconventional gas drilling sites
11-12 June UK Shale gas and Tight Gas Conference, Edinburgh
Summer 2014 – DECC publish British Geological Survey assessment of shale gas potential in Scotland
Autumn 2014 – licenses for 14th onshore round oil and gas licensing tendered by DECC
11 October 2014 – Global Frackdown Day III

Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said, “Unconventional gas is unnecessary, unsafe and unwanted. The Scottish Government has clearly stated that Scotland does not need unconventional gas to meet our energy needs, and extracting and burning it will jeopordise our climate targets and expose local people to unacceptable health risks.

“The local community has made it resoundingly clear that they do not want this industry on their doorstep, or anywhere. It is our hope that the Inquiry will support this position and signal the end of the unconventional gas industry in Scotland.”

The local inquiry is expected to be lengthy and cover complex technical ground including potential public health and climate change impacts of the development.

Friends of the Earth Scotland will be leading two expert witnesses at the Inquiry. Dr John Broderick of the Tyndall Centre will give evidence on the climate change implications of going after a new source of fossil fuels, and Prof Christopher Hilson of Reading University will present on the inadequacies of the regulatory framework to respond to the industry.

A number of areas in Scotland are already under license for onshore unconventional gas development, but on 17th December the UK Government published a map of areas, including vast swathes of Scotland, that could be licensed for future shale gas and coalbed methane extraction. [3]

The Reporter has agreed that the Inquiry will examine complex technical ground including potential public health and climate change impacts of the development. Its findings could set a precedent for unconventional gas plans around the UK. Both Falkirk and Stirling Council’s Planning Committees voted to oppose the plans in December 2013.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1. For updates and documentation relating to the Public Local Inquiry into Planning Permission Appeal PPA-240-2032 and PPA-390-2029 please visit the Department for Planning and Environmental Appeals’ website at http://www.dpea.scotland.gov.uk/CaseDetails.aspx?id=94326

2. There are currently 5 areas under license in Scotland where unconventional gas activity has taken place (see http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate/issues/uk_fracking_map_41274.html). Activity to date has focussed on coalbed methane drilling which carries many similar risks to the process of extracting shale gas by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’. Unlike shale gas, coalbed methane extraction doesn’t always involve fracking – at least not in the early years of a development. Instead, coal seams are de-pressurised by pumping out large volumes of water. But as gas flow starts to decline after a few years, wells are often fracked to increase productivity. In Australia the industry estimates that up to 40% of coalbed methane wells end up being fracked.

3. http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/node/1724 – our press release on communities at risk of fracking and unconventional gas extraction across Scotland.

4. While the UK Coalition Government is furiously courting the unconventional gas industry, the Scottish Government’s attitude has been lukewarm. In October 2013 Scottish Ministers confirmed that they were minded to implement a proposal in the new draft Scottish Planning Policy for buffer zones between communities and gas drilling sites. While Friends of the Earth Scotland believe a ban on all unconventional gas extraction is necessary to protect the climate and communities, the Government’s proposals, if strengthened to specify a distance of 2km, would go some way to protecting local residents from the very worst of the public health impacts.

5. In 2014 the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will launch the tendering process for its 14th round of onshore licensing during which a vast swathe of the central belt of Scotland could be put out to tender for oil and gas exploration.

6. DECC has commissioned the British Geological Survey to undertake a study of the shale gas potential in the central belt of Scotland. The results of this study are expected in the summer.

7. Bans and moratoria around the world:
· France: A nationwide ban on fracking
· Switzerland: A moratorium on fracking was introduced in the canton of Fribourg
· Germany: Moratorium in Northrhine-Westphalia on fracking. Lower Saxony likely to do the same. National moratorium written into new coalition Government agreement.
· Bulgaria: Government banned fracking
· Czech Republic: A moratorium on fracking, considering outright ban
· Spain: Cantabria banned fracking, La Rioja is also currently considering same
· Netherlands: Moratorium on unconventional fossil fuels
· Denmark: Moratorium on fracking
· Quebec: A moratorium on fracking
· United States: Vermont banned fracking, and New York has moratorium
· New South Wales: ban on any coal bed methane activity within 2km of residential areas, and within critical industry clusters such as winegrowing areas
· Ireland: 2-year moratorium on fracking

8. Friends of the Earth Scotland is
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 77 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups.