Campaigners in the Scottish Borders are raising growing concerns that the work of a proposed quarry could disturb an Ineos ethylene gas pipeline, with potentially lethal results.
Locals in West Linton, who 30 years ago successful blocked two previous quarry proposals in the area, claim Ineos and the Health and Safety executive should step in to recommend that planning permission for the quarry – which has an ethylene gas pipeline running right through the proposed site – is refused.
The pipeline on South Slipperfield Farm carries the highly pressured ethylene from Wilton in Yorkshire to Ineos’ Grangemouth site and is legally defined as a Major Accident Hazard Pipeline (MAHP).
The South Slipperfield Quarry Action Group claim that the slightest damage to the pipe could result in a catastrophic explosion, putting lives at danger.
Stonepack Limited, the company behind the quarry proposals, insists it is “acutely aware of the sensitivity of the pipeline” and says the works will be carried out in a way “which ensures that there is no impact” on it.
Quarry safety concerns
However residents remain deeply concerned, highlighting a leak from a cracked Ineos pipe at the company’s Grangemouth plant in 2017, which created a huge flammable gas cloud, as evidence of the dangers.
Last month Ineos was fined £400,000 after admitting its safety inspections failed to detect the 10ins (25cm) long corroded pipe section which allowed ethylene gas to escape.
The campaign group is also objecting to the quarry proposed on Slipperfield Farm. The site is in a special landscape area in the Pentland hills, and campaigners claim it would be an “eyesore” and detrimental to the environment, destroying glacial features from the Ice Age in the area.
But Jim Pratt, a local resident and retired forester who has been researching the pipeline, said the safety concerns were the most serious. He has written to Ineos as well as local councillors, outlining “how anxious many of us feel about this planning proposal and its inherent danger”.
He claims the current proposals mean that an estimated 1.4m tonnes of sand and gravel, expected to be excavated over the next 16 years, will have to cross pipeline twice – once to be stored and then to be collected by lorry.
Vehicles collecting the material will also have to cross the pipeline both coming on to the site to pick up the gravel, and on leaving – an estimated 200,000 trips, according to Pratt.
“This is a pipeline that must not even be touched,” he told The Ferret. “If the pipeline it remains undisturbed it is of no concern. But if it is punctured, even if just by a pinprick, or moved even slightly out of true, there could be a leak of ethylene gas.
“At this point you’d also get a depression in the pressure. It loses temperature instantaneously in the process and at that temperature it compromises the strength of the steel. It could result in a full [gas] blow-back [explosion].”
He claims the now 40-year-old pipe – which has an expected lifetime of 50 years – means the quarry proposals comes with risks that, while small, outweigh any potential benefits to the local area.
His concerns are backed by others in the South Slipperfield Quarry Action Group, a combination of those involved in a previous action group set up to object to proposals in the nineties and additional local residents.
A spokesperson said a quarry development was considered “detrimental to the village”.
They added: “Many have justifiable concerns over potential damage to the Ineos ethylene pipeline which the developers want to work around. We feel strongly that the quarry adds greatly to the risk of a potentially fatal accident.”
It claims a gas pipeline explosion in Ghislenghien, Belgium in 2004, highlights the risks.
Other concerns including an increase in the number of large haulage trucks in the village and environmental impacts.
“South Slipperfield – part of the Pentlands – is an area of outstanding natural beauty, bordered by the Roman Road, a historically important route, at the foot of Mendick Hill, popular for its panoramic views,” added the spokesperson.
“Quarrying at the proposed site would create a horrible eyesore – visible from far and wide.”
Two previous proposals for quarries in the area, made in 1991 and 1994, were previously rejected.
The group is now calling for a “robust and transparent risk assessment” to be done independently of the developers. It claims that a council decision to approve the quarry application would act as “a dangerous precedent for other areas around the country”.
A spokesperson for Stonepack limited confirmed the company had met with representatives from Ineos and said all proposals were in “accord with Ineos guidance”.
The added: “We are acutely aware of the sensitivity of the pipeline and, with the management procedures proposed, which would be agreed with Ineos, works will be undertaken in a manner which ensures that there is no impact on the pipeline.”
The point where the pipeline will be crossed is “almost like a bridge” they added, claiming that this means there will be no additional pressure on the pipeline.
A spokesman for Scottish Borders Council confirmed that it had received a planning application for a quarry. A decision is due in September.
They added: “The council is aware of the relationship of the proposed development to the pipeline and has alerted both the operator of the pipeline and the Health and Safety Executive to the application as part of the normal consultation process.”
A HSE spokesperson said safety concerns related to the proposal would be covered by existing legislation including the Quarry Regulations 1999. It said Ineos would remain responsible for the pipeline.
Ineos did not respond to requests for comment.