The Grangemouth multinational, Ineos, has withdrawn its bid to drill for underground coal gas in central Scotland, ending a ten-year controversy.
The Ferret can reveal that the fossil fuel company has written to the Scottish Government and objectors abandoning its plans to sink 14 gas wells at Airth near Falkirk because they will “inevitably” be rejected by Scottish ministers.
Environmental and community campaigners have reacted with delight, with one claiming that Ineos had “finally admitted defeat and are walking away from this dirty development.” The Scottish Government has welcomed the company’s decision.
The Ferret reported on 18 February that Ineos, which runs the Grangemouth petrochemical complex, was attempting to resurrect an 2011 plan to extract methane from underground coal seams at Airth. This uses a technology related to that for fracking for shale gas.
In a response on 21 February the Scottish Government proposed re-opening a public inquiry that closed in 2014. Hearings should be reconvened to consider changes in government policy, planning officials suggested.
A decision on the inquiry has been delayed as ministers worked out their policy on coal bed methane and fracking, collectively known as unconventional oil and gas (UOG). In October 2019, after prolonged consultations, the Scottish Government adopted a policy of “no support” for UOG.
Advice from the government’s chief planner made clear that “Scottish Ministers would inevitably reject the appeals” on grounds of “public concern”, he wrote.
Government planning reporters regarded the no-support policy as a “relevant material consideration” for them. “That decision effectively drew a line under matters, so far as Ineos is concerned,” Telfer said.
“The hope was that the Scottish ministers might have confirmed that by “no support” they intended to adopt a neutral position, which could be influenced by the scientific evidence, rather than one that fundamentally opposed any form of onshore unconventional oil and gas development, regardless of its merits or national need.”
Ineos also considered the financial implications of having to “effectively start again from scratch” at a reconvened inquiry. “To start the appeal process again after this long lapse of time would require Ineos to incur significant further costs,” Telfer wrote.
This would be possible if there was “some reasonable prospect of a return on the investment in the form of the grant of planning permission,” he added. “But, so far as Ineos is concerned, no such prospect exists.”
Telfer’s letter also highlighted an “apparent disconnect” between the government’s environmental impact assessment and its scientific advice. There would have been “a deal of public merit” in having public health and environmental concerns re-examined, he said.
One of the original objectors to drilling for coal bed methane at Airth was Friends of the Earth Scotland. “It is great news that Ineos has finally admitted defeat and are walking away from this dirty development,” said the environmental group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church.
“This is a real victory for the people across Scotland who campaigned for the moratorium against fracking, and particularly for the community at Airth who have been fighting this coal bed methane project since 2012. It’s a scandal that this climate wrecking project has been hanging over the community for so long.”
The climate emergency meant there was no excuse for any new fossil fuel developments, Church argued. “Ineos and the Scottish Government should now turn their focus to developing a credible and just transition plan for the plants at Grangemouth, which are amongst the biggest climate polluters and plastic producers in the UK.”
This is a huge relief for Falkirk communities. Concerned Communities of Falkirk
The Concerned Communities of Falkirk, which co-ordinated opposition to the Ineos plan, called for the public inquiry to now to be formally closed. “This is a huge relief for Falkirk communities,” said a group spokesperson.
“We have had the threat of this development hanging over our heads for over seven years. The inquiry showed communities coming together, but we now need closure.”
The spokesperson added: “It’s good to see that Ineos have finally put community concerns above profits and we thank them for that. A swift closure of the public inquiry would benefit all concerned.”
The Scottish Government welcomed Ineos’s decision. “Our policy of no support for the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland is based on particular concerns we have identified,” said a government spokesperson.
“These include the insufficiency of epidemiological evidence on health impacts highlighted by Health Protection Scotland; the concerns from communities across Scotland regarding transport impacts, risks of pollution, and on their general health and well-being – as well as concern over the compatibility of an unconventional oil and gas industry with Scotland’s climate change targets”.
Scottish ministers have made it clear that they “do not intend to issue any licences in Scotland which would permit any unconventional oil or gas extraction.”
Ineos has been asked to comment.
The letter saying Ineos was withdrawing its coal bed methane plan
Photo thanks to Friends of the Earth Scotland.