By Liz Thomson
If the performance by INEOS bosses at the first fracking community engagement event was reflective of the strength of their case – the shale industry should be worried.
Operations Director Tom Pickering and Business Development Manager Gary Haywood were left visibly rattled in a clash with Denny residents on Thursday. The public meeting at Denny High School was the first of six intended to persuade local communities to back fracking in the central belt.
INEOS have been granted two Petroleum (PEDL) licences by Westminster to extract shale gas using hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” across the midland valley stretching from Fife to Glasgow. Mr Pickering believes initial explorations will not be subject to the moratorium placed on the technology by the Scottish Government, pending a public consultation and health impact assessment.
The two representatives arrived on Thursday evening armed with a series of promotional videos, slideshows and glossy literature. However, what many anticipated to be a slick public relations exercise in ‘love bombing’ quickly backfired.
The presentation, aimed at debunking “emotive and misleading” myths surrounding the safety of the technology was challenged at every turn by campaigners and residents.
INEOS recently announced that 6 per cent of shale gas revenues would go to communities “close to wells”. However, it was revealed that a “community” could be defined as up to 60km from a well site. Therefore residents living next to a development in Falkirk could be forced to share financial rewards with those living in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Mr Pickering also indicated that INEOS would consider the use of compulsory purchase orders to force residents who declined payment from their properties.
The INEOS bosses attempted to focus their argument for fracking on claims that the safety of the industry would be guaranteed by the robust UK regulatory framework. The pair repeatedly referred to a report by The Royal Society backing the expansion of fracking across the UK as evidence that the Industry could proceed safely. However campaigners said the report is flawed, as the authors have no public health expertise.
Mr Haywood stressed that stringent regulation would ensure the UK experience of fracking would differ from that of the US, where the process has resulted in contamination of water supplies. He insisted that Local authorities in Scotland would enforce higher safety standards as a prerequisite for planning permission and that SEPA will effectively regulate the process and the content of chemical additives contained in frack fluid.
However, when asked how INEOS could guarantee that SEPA will remain well resourced enough in the face of funding cuts to fulfil such a role, the pair back tracked, stating:
“Clearly it is not up to us to ensure that SEPA have enough resources but we’re sure they will”.
Mr Haywood added:
“Nobody can give you a cast iron guarantee that there will be no incidents but hopefully the water won’t be contaminated.”
Questions were raised over the capabilities of SEPA to regulate the unconventional extraction of fossil fuels in 2013 when it emerged that the regulatory body had known about faulty borehole construction at a coal bed methane development in Canonbie, but failed to act.
A study published in the Environmental Law Review has also called into question the adequacy of the overall UK regulatory framework to monitor the shale industry. The paper, authored by Joanne Hawkins of Bristol University warned that reliance on oil and gas regulations designed pre – fracking poses significant risk to human health and the environment.
Ms Hawkins findings also challenge claims by INEOS that chemical additives used in fracking fluid will be assessed by regulatory bodies.
“The chemicals used in fracking are not necessarily regulated via a ground-water permit. Nor are they effectively regulated via dedicated chemicals regulation. The current description system for chemical use does not provide a suitable category to describe the use of chemicals in fracking.”
In response to concerns about proximity of activity to communities last Thursday Mr Pickering claimed that wells would be placed a safe distance from ‘major residential areas’. However residents reacted with horror when he revealed that developments could be located just 400m from communities. The Scottish Government’s Planning Policy recommends a 2km buffer zone but ultimately allows industry to decide.
Commenting on the presentation, Concerned Communities of Falkirk activist Maria Montinaro said:
“The minimum 400m buffer zone was a complete shock to the audience and although both Tom Pickering and Gary Haywood stated they wouldn’t mind a well 400m from their own homes the same could not be said for the majority of the audience at Denny High School that night.
“The audience did not get satisfactory answers to questions on why New York State have banned the Industry, what eventually happens to the contaminated flow back water once “treated”, or to the wells after abandonment.
“A concern raised by a member of the audience experiencing a fall in property value was denied by INEOS despite studies confirming insurers will not cover risk exposure attributable to this type of industry.
“When problems arise it will be for individuals communities and councils to prove the Industry is responsible and then be financially prepared to pursue long drawn out claims through the courts.”
Public Health Professor, Andrew Watterson added:
“The Ineos presentation appeared somewhat confused at times about who regulated what in the UK. From a company that in the USA has been fined millions of dollars under Clean Air legislation, that is a worry.
“Ineos oddly seemed to be in denial about the many research and peer reviewed publications that raise important questions about the public health impacts of fracking. Their constant citing of a Royal Society report on UGE safety, compiled primarily by engineers and geologists, which barely contains any substantial public health research did not instill confidence in the company’s ability to address objectively the evidence and arguments about future fracking health risks.
“Ineos presented a flimsy assessment on fracking chemicals and their toxicity which appeared to rely heavily on DECC information that in turn was drawn from Cuadrilla. Some of Cuadrilla information on the supposed non-toxicity of fracking fluid and Cuadrilla’s view that there was no evidence of aquifer contamination from fracking was politely described as misleading by the Advertising Standards Agency in a number of findings against the company. It is to be hoped that Ineos will provide more rigorous risk assessment of such chemicals and fracking’s engineering risks in the future than Cuadrilla has so far achieved.”
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There are a further five community meetings scheduled in Alloa, Falkirk, Kilsyth, Bishopbriggs and Cumbernauld. A link to times and dates can be found here: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/ineos-upstream-8022441725
Categories: Environmental Justice