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Extreme Energy Inquiry begins in Scotland


Green Councillor Mark Ruskell with local community representatives and Friends of the Earth members outside the Inchyra Hotel this morning. Photo: Friends of the Earth Scotland.

The UK’s first public inquiry into unconventional gas drilling is underway in Polmont, Falkirk.

The Scottish Government called the inquiry after the troubled Australian firm Dart Energy appealed to speed up Falkirk and Stirling Councils’ planning process for their coal-bed methane drilling proposals.

The month-long process will have major ramifications for new gas drilling across Europe.  Photographers and TV crews gathered as well-wishers welcomed communities members participating in the inquiry (pictured).

Concerned Communities of Falkirk have collected objections to the proposals from 2,500 local residents.  They will submit evidence through a variety of experts, as will Falkirk and Stirling Councils, Friends of the Earth Scotland, and Dart Energy themselves.

The first session begun this morning with evidence from Dart’s own engineers.

John Spears and Andy Sloan, who admitted they expect to work on the developments if the application is approved, told the inquiry:

  • Water treatment facilities will be built with spare capacity to allow considerable expansion beyond the proposed operations.
  • Horizontal drilling already carried out at the site has taken place through un-cased shafts outwith the coal seems.
  • They were unable to say how much gas might be vented in an emergency situation.
  • One tanker a day of toxic sludge will be produced from the site.  They noted this could be reduced, but no assurances were given.

The Reporter (Chair) from the Scottish Government agreed that the closing statements alone will take two days.

While Day One of the the proceedings unfolded at the Inchyra Hotel, MSPs in Holyrood debated the current planning framework.

The Scottish Government have proposed to introduce buffer zones around onshore drilling sites to protect homes and businesses, but are yet to announce how big they will be.

Today in Parliament Claudia Beamish MSP announced Scottish Labour want these buffer zones to be 2km from drilling sites.

The inquiry continues and you can follow events in the room at #dartinquiry.

This article was originally published on Bright Greeen.

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The Green in the White Paper

What does the Independence White Paper tell us about how the environment would be protected in an independent Scotland? In one sense, not very much. The SNP’s document is a manifesto for a future election to run a state that does not yet exist. A lot of the contents is old news, and of what is new we can rightfully question the SNP’s resolve to deliver it.

However this document does bring together, for the first time, a complete vision of what the Scottish Government would do with the powers afforded to it by independence: what it would change, and what it would not.

Naturally the document focuses on areas of policy which are currently reserved, that is to say they are not currently within the power of the Scottish Government. This had led some environmentalists, who note the devolved nature of environmental regulation, transport policy and climate change legislation, to consider the referendum debate largely irrelevant. The White Paper shows this false. In fact sustainability is at the heart of the debate on Scotland’s future and this document shows us how.

Oil

The White Paper is screaming about oil, to be specific offshore oil and gas. This is neither novel or surprising given that including oil and gas revenue from Scotland’s GDP adds £5,853 per person and according to the White Paper “in excess of 90 per cent” of UK oil and gas revenues derive from Scottish waters (p.31).

The Scottish Government makes no case for reining in the industry offering “no plans to increase the overall tax burden on the oil industry” (p.18). Instead it says its tax regime will “support and incentivise production” and offer future reforms “that encourage exploration and help maximise economic recovery rates” (p.303).

An example is later given of a Norwegian policy to “reimburse the tax value of exploration costs for companies not in a tax-paying position” (p.304).

The purpose of this fresh production and exploration drive? The White Paper says it will raise revenue for a sovereign wealth fund which is invested in when prices are high, cushioning the blow of dwindling reserves and price volatility.

The document asks “is continued oil and gas production consistent with Scotland’s commitments on climate change?” “Yes.” it says. Science disagrees. On first principals we can say that as the world has five times more fossil-fuels than we can afford to burn and therefore any additional extraction is incompatible with halting global climate change. As Stuart Rodger points out in the Herald we must also wake up to Scotland’s numbers: “if 12 billion barrels of North Sea oil were to be burned this would emit 5.2 billion tonnes of CO2, dwarfing domestic efforts [to cut CO2]”. In other words, Scotland’s climate change legislation is pretty meaningless when you add in the impact of our oil.

The Scottish Government says it wants to “steward our oil and gas assets for the benefit of the nation, as well as supporting the growth of [the] industry” (p.301). It also wants to be a world leader on climate change. The problem with this approach is that sustainability and stewardship, require a sovereign wealth fund and a gradual winding down of the industry. Yet these tasks are directly at odds with the policies which seek to maximise output and create a new drive for exploration.

There is no other mention of other kinds of energy extraction in the body of the document. The word “coal” is not mentioned and onshore oil and gas is only discussed in the appendices.

What the document does say of onshore gas and fracking simply reinforces the Scottish Government current policy position: it is neither welcomed or rejected, and the updated planning policy (which includes proposed “buffer zones”) is referenced (p.513-514). Anti-extreme energy campaigners fighting new extraction from coal bed methane and fracking may be reassured that at least the Scottish Government hasn’t attempted to sideline the issue.

Electricity generation

Renewable generation of electricity, a headline SNP policy for some years, gets a lot of air time in the White Paper.

The document reaffirms the target of 100 per cent of electricity demand to be met by renewables by 2020, and a “2030 electricity decarbonisation target to achieve a carbon intensity of 50g CO2/kWh of electricity generation in Scotland.” (p.518) The caveat here of course being that you can meet domestic demand with renewables without turning off your coal-fired power stations: you just sell the high-carbon electricity to England. This is the SNP’s plan and they have gone some way to achieving it under their current devolution settlement.

The same big energy companies that are hoovering up our rising domestic bills are also the primary beneficiaries of this policy, something that local anti-wind farm campaigners have not been slow to pick up on.

As a response the Scottish Government makes its case that it is supporting community ownership by helping them to acquire assets and land (p.290) and by “developing new models of community ownership” for energy generation” (p.295).

Unfortunately any detail is lacking. Wind and tidal get a mention (p.57) but solar power, touted as an excellent solution for water heating in Scotland, appears nowhere, and district heating is also not discussed.

What of our coal and nuclear stations?

The White Paper reminds us that the “Scottish Government is opposed to the building of any new nuclear power stations in Scotland and will phase out existing stations in Scotland over time” (p.514).

As for coal and gas: “it is likely there will be a need to maintain and build new power stations run on traditional fossil fuels. The scheduled closure of existing power plants, and the construction of a minimum of 2.5 GW of new or replacement efficient fossil fuel electricity generation plants progressively fitted with carbon capture and storage , will satisfy security of supply concerns and, together with renewable energy, deliver large amounts of electricity exports” (p.515-516). Good news for the energy industry. Not so great for our environment.

Problems associated with this approach are apologised for with a proposal to roll out “carbon capture and storage” (CCS). Although they state that “only independence provides Scotland with the autonomy to make the necessary strategic investments that will support the growth of CCS” (p.302) we should be sceptical, since CCS trials have failed in Scotland in very recent memory and many criticisms of the technology remain unanswered regarding emissions from coal mining and CO2 storage.

Fuel poverty and energy efficiency

Heating and electric supply is couched in terms of keeping prices down in the document, which is not surprising given the current political climate and rising domestic bills.

The document outlines an intention to eradicate fuel poverty although the only measures proposed is that currently being discussed at Westminster to fund green levies such as the Energy Company Obligation and Warm Homes Discount from central government funds (p.18 , p.298). Other programmes such as the much criticised “Green Deal” are to be supported, as is the Renewable Heat Incentive (p.519).

There is little ambition shown about how the Scottish Government would use its new powers to reduce fuel poverty and improve energy efficiency.

Climate change targets

Where does all of this leave Scotland’s climate change targets? The Scottish Government is confident that “the world-leading climate change legislation”, with its target of a 42% reduction by 2020, “demonstrates Scotland’s progressive approach to the protection of the environment” and “ground-breaking work championing Climate Justice, including setting up the world’s first Climate Justice Fund” (p.291) which will allow it to “champion tackling climate change in international forums including the UN and the EU” (p.17).

There is a strong argument that an independent Scotland would have a louder voice on the world stage but this may be more important than is immediately apparent. A returning delegate from last week’s disastrous UN climate talks in Warsaw told me that Climate Minister Paul Wheelhouse’s attempts to showcase Scotland’s efforts were significantly hampered by the UK Government delegation who resisted giving the Scottish Government air time.

Transport

Reducing the price of air travel features throughout the White Paper. The policy, to “reduce APD [air passenger duty] by 50 per cent in the first term of the independent parliament, with a view to abolishing it when public finances allow” (p.98), is designed to increase tourism and international trade. The document complains that “APD in the UK is now the highest tax of its type anywhere in the world” (p.98) and that cutting it will allow more direct routes from Scottish airports (p.119).

The Government fails to mention the role of APD tax in reducing carbon emissions. This is ironic given the Scottish Government’s progressive approach in including aviation emissions in its aforementioned “ground-breaking” carbon targets.

For rail travel, the document is open minded. Stating opportunities for “ different ownership models for the rail network” (p.25) including “public-supported and not-for-profit models” (p.127). Possibilities for renationalisation should be welcomed by campaigners seeking to see private car use replaced by the use of public transport.

There is also some talk of high speed rail in Scotland, although nothing in the way of a specific proposal, other than re-emphasising the Scottish Governments frustration that High Speed 2 is not planned to reach Scottish cities (p.128).

For road travel no fuel duty change is proposed but the document does suggests introducing a “Fuel Duty Regulator” to stabilise petrol prices, something which by itself would be expected to increase car use (p.129).

Currently devolved elements such as road building and so called “active travel” (cycling and walking) are not covered in the document, which is perhaps surprising given the Scottish Government’s enthusiasm for the former and enthusiasm for talking about the later. There is also no discussion of the reform of local public transport.

Despite a planned increase in air travel the document is optimistic that carbon cuts can be achieved with rail electrification, electric vehicles, expansion of renewable energy generation, and smart grid technology “achiev[ing] the almost complete decarbonisation of road transport by 2050” (p.127). This target has been singled out as an exciting new pro-environmental policy, but it should be noted that although it sounds ambitious it is in fact necessitated by Scotland’s pre-existing 80%+ carbon cut target for 2050.

Industry and business

The Scottish Government wants to cut tax and regulation on business, outlining “a clear timetable for reducing corporation tax by up to three percentage points” (p.06) and a simplified tax system “to reduce compliance costs” (p.08). There is also talk of “expanding our manufacturing base” (p.98).

We shouldn’t be under any illusions about the impact of current Scottish consumption, which currently exports most of our environmental impact. In this light an increase in manufacturing could contribute to a more sustainable economy: but we should take a sceptical view of the ability of already devolved Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to control the impact of any new manufacturing boom, especially if the invitation to foreign investment is to come to a low tax and low regulation Scotland.

Nuclear weapons

“We would make early agreement on the speediest safe removal of nuclear weapons a priority.” (p.14)

The White Paper proudly references at almost all opportunities the pledge to remove Trident from Scotland post-independence. This is great news not as a sanctimonious stance but because, according to very convincing research by CND, there is a very high chance this force the UK to unilaterally disarm.

However critical questions remain over the SNP’s dedication to this cause including an apparent “softening” of their stance regarding admitting ships carrying nuclear weapons into Scottish territorial waters (this is excellently reviewed by Nicholas Watt and Severin Carrell in today’s Guardian.

Sea life

Wildlife protection is currently devolved, but fisheries negotiation, which takes place at an EU level, is not. The document pledges to “keep the Scottish quota in Scotland” (p.17) and to “safeguard the future of Scotland’s fishing communities and seafood sectors” by preventing any reduction in quotas (p.282).

This approach may go down well in fishing communities but is considerably at odds with the ecological reality of ailing fish stocks and devastated marine life in Scotland’s waters.

Harmonisation

As well as making commitments on specific policy areas the White Paper has a number of provisions for improving policy harmonisation and governance.

Most conspicuous is a pledge to “seek to enshrine environmental protection in the constitution” (p.293) which could provide a myriad of opportunities for campaigners, for example those seeking to enforce the Aarhus Convention in Scotland to give communities better access to environmental justice, sorely lacking in the infamous Trump vs. Menie saga.

Finally the International Development chapter (p.231) outlines a “Do No Harm” policy which will “ensure that other Scottish Government policies do no harm to developing countries, do not undermine international development aims and ideally contribute to international development success”. Such a rigorous approach, if taken seriously, would open doors for people to challenge Government activity which promotes unsustainable Scottish industry abroad; the impact of Government-owned assets and investments (e.g. RBS); and would provide an additional policy lever for action on climate change.

Verdict

The White Paper’s greatest value is not to answer all possible questions: the outcome of any election is uncertain and a referendum is no different. What it does do is highlight the kinds of choices open to Scots which are currently out of their reach reserved by Westminster.

It also tells us the SNP’s priorities. For example we should infer something from the fact that the phrase “sustainable economic growth” appears 15 times in the document. In it’s “Referendum Challenge” the umbrella body of Scotland’s environmental organisations told the Yes and No campaigns it’s first priority for securing Scotland’s future was to ensure “we measure the success of our society intelligently”. The White Paper is clearly far off this. Economic growth, foreign direct investment and North Sea oil run through the whole document.

On the other hand their anti-nuclear intentions, albeit incomplete, alongside their renewables investment drive and new focuses on policy coherence are to be welcomed.

Aside from specific policy commitments the most encouraging thing about this document is the evidence, peppered throughout, of the impact on the document of democratic campaigning. Already on OurKingdom we have heard about Jubilee Scotland‘s impact on the document. We can also see the stamp of extreme energy campaigners not to mention the constant re-emphasis of the 42% carbon cut target, the great success of the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition. Many things which we might feel are lacking, such as reining in of North Sea oil, are simply not things civil society has been talking about.

Ultimately the credibility of this White Paper would be best judged if we had anything to compare it to. Of course we will not receive manifestos for governing an independent Scotland from Labour until after a Yes vote, but what is the Better Together plan for environmental protection? So far the only other substantial contribution to the discussion has come from the Scottish Greens.

In both its failings and its strength the White Paper shows where the battlegrounds would be for making an independent Scotland a sustainable country. There are still many challenges to the Yes campaign to see the SNP meet their ambitions for a greener Scotland. The question is now to discover if a continuing United Kingdom can respond to these same challenges and show a better path for a green society in these islands.

This post was a commission for Open Democracy.

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News and updates

Knowledge and Power report published

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A new report written by Ric Lander on behalf for People & Planet, Platform and 350.org has exposed the extent to which the fossil fuel industry is financially interconnected with UK universities.

The report, Knowledge and Power – Fossil Fuel Universities, reveals that UK universities have an estimated £5.2 billion invested in the fossil fuel industry, equivalent to £2,083 for every student in the UK. Using data obtained through Freedom of Information requests and crowd-sourced from students and staff at universities across the UK, it also reveals the weaknesses of our university’s current ethical investment policies.

And the ties go much deeper than purely financial support. The report accuses universities of ‘greenwashing’ a sector whose business model relies on burning 5 times more carbon than is safe to avoid a climate crisis. For example, senior executives from BP and Shell have received 20 awards and honorary degrees from UK universities in the last decade alone, providing them with valuable legitimacy and a ‘social license to operate’.

Kevin Smith from oil and gas watchdog Platform said:

“UK universities have become the victims of corporate capture at the hands of the fossil fuel sector. We are allowing vital public infrastructure to be used to subsidise and expand a dangerous, out-dated energy model that only benefits the profits of oil and gas companies.”

The report is the most comprehensive assessment to date of UK universities ties to the fossil fuel industry, and paints a damning picture of the industry’s influence over research agendas. For example, of the 258 papers published by the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, only three focussed on renewables, whilst the Institute received more than half of its grants from oil and gas companies. In 2013 Imperial College London has more research funding from fossil fuel companies than any other UK institution, receiving £17.3 million from Shell and BP alone.

The report coincides with the launch of People & Planet’s Fossil Free UK divestment campaign.  In collaboration with 350.org co-founder and acclaimed author Bill McKibben, students will embark on a UK tour to kickstart the divestment movement in a fortnight.

Story courtesy of People & Planet.

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Reposts

New Gas in the UK: Battlegrounds set at Balcombe and West Burton

Images from the Balcomb fracking protest
The community campaign against Cuadrilla at Balcombe, Sussex, is at a critical point.
Photos from Frack Off.

As the drilling equipment rolls into rural Britain the public debate has begun, accompanied by frequent TV news reports balancing academic consensus against industry bravado.

Scientific and economic clarity on the disastrous impact of New Gas drilling and fracking has arrived. Now in the light of the public eye, the movement against is growing ever faster.

This week in the sleepy village of Balcolme in the Weald Valley, Sussex, the local community has been making a stand to lock the gate to gas firm Cuadrilla.

Sky News have rolled into Balcolme and we’re going to hear a lot about it over the next two weeks. You can follow daily updates at Frack Off and on Twitter at #balcombe, or get a free bus down to join them.

Map of new gas drilling in the UK
New Gas drilling in the UK, from the Frack Off film Doreen’s Story.

Have you seen this map of Britain? Most people will be looking at it to see how near these unsettling blankets of colour come to their home. According to George Osborne, it is a picture of vast untapped treasures which must be acquired as soon as possible. To environmentalists, it’s a battlefield: these are the villages and fields where we will make our stand against New Gas.

The climate change direct action movement is as always, ready to lead the way. After their reprieve in the courts, the group No Dash for Gas are asking you to join them at West Burton Power Station, Nottinghamshire for a weekend action camp from 16-21 August: Reclaim the Power. This is the time when we lock the gate to New Gas drilling. Time to get involved.

Other New Gas developments this month:

• Dart Energy appear to be losing their grip after the loss of their European Director and being told they will have to wait over a year for the Scottish Government to consider their appeal against the planning decision on their proposals in Falkirk and Stirling.

• Renowned journal Science publishes new research showing that underground water injection (as practiced in fracking) has a much greater capacity to cause earthquakes that previously thought.

• A follow-up to Oscar-nominated Gas Land premieres on US TV, and in the UK Frack Off’s short film Doreen’s Story has made waves.

– See more at: http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2013/07/new-gas-in-the-uk-battlegrounds-set-at-balcombe-and-west-burton/#sthash.40RPG4Kq.dpuf

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After 160 years Central Scotland has had enough

After 160 years Central Scotland has had enough

Ric Lander, 11th June 2013. Originally published in Perspectives Magazine and on Bright Green.

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The central belt’s fossil-fuel industrialists: James ‘Paraffin’ Young; John (Lord) Browne, BP; Mark Lappin, Dart Energy.

When new technology offers us great promise – and the new gas boom certainly does, offering up cheap, clean energy and jobs galore – it’s worth taking time to consider what lessons can we learn from history.

Discussing the announcement of a gas industry-financed report proclaiming ‘drill baby drill’ for the UK, Newsnight reporter Andrew Black says Scotland’s shale oil was “a once proud industry that years ago was the envy of the world” (1). We are often proud of getting through traumatic events. Few industries have given a place as much trauma as the fossil-fuel extraction industry. What is remarkable is that the quite small patch of central Scotland where new gas drilling is being proposed is the very place that has perhaps the longest history of this trauma.

From shale oil to coal to the North Sea, the central belt of Scotland has seen it all before. Boom and bust, pollution and catastrophe, and then the inevitable mess for communities to clean-up. Proposals by Dart Energy to drill for coal-bed methane on the River Forth could be just another chapter in this story, but encouragingly, local people might be poised to make history.

Bings and the first booms

It’s been almost a century since Scotland’s shale ‘bings’ (similar to spoil heaps) have been out of use, and much seems to have been forgotten of the true nature of the industry that created them.

Central Scotland’s history of oil and gas began with shale oil, which for a brief period made Scotland one of the world’s largest oil exporters. Beginning in the 1850s, it was a boom industry in the time between the abundance of whale oil and Texan black gold. Entrepreneur James ‘Paraffin’ Young invented a process to produce easily transportable and relatively safe lamp fuel which made him very rich, and in terms of sheer scale left the most astonishing footprint on the Scottish lowlands.

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Shale oil bings at Broxburn, East Lothian. Image: Flickr user bethmoon527 (Creative Commons)

This land is, of course, totally lost to agriculture, but the human cost of the boom was greater. Places such as Burngrange, W. Lothian suffered greatly in incidents like that in January 1947 where rapidly spreading fires took the lives of 15 shale miners. Epidemiological studies from this time reveal considerable damage to health including skin and respiratory conditions (2). Unlike the James Youngs of this world, shale miners did not die old.
Yet shale oil’s impact on the central belt was dwarfed by later developments. The deepest scars in the area were left by the coal industry. At its height it employed over 140,000 people in Scotland. Mining families made up 10% of the population (3).

In the 10 years from 1877 to 1887 Scotland lost 343 people in three disasters with workers killed in mines kept in appalling conditions. The outrage and courage of those they left behind was a major driver to the budding Labour movement (4). Like shale mining, numerous effects shortened life-spans. Although great strides were made by the unions these mines were never safe, with subsequent disasters taking lives right up to the 1960s.

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Official list of deaths at the Burngrange shale mine disaster, 1947. Image from: ‘Report on the Causes of the Explosion and fire at the Burngrange Mine, Midlothian’, Ministry of Fuel and Power

Central Scotland’s deep mines have now gone, but their impact still remains. They left their slag heaps and their bings, and occasionally the mines remind of their presence when a house sinks into an old coal seam, as happened in Edinburgh in 2001 (5).

Remaining open-cast mines have now gone under, and the liquidation of Scottish Coal is providing nowhere near enough assets to pay for the sites’ restoration (6). What a mess.

Communities built for the pits defined themselves by coal and shale. Now all that is left is legacy of poor health and environmental destruction.

Central Scotland and the North Sea

In October 1970 Scotland’s energy industry was transformed anew with the discovery of the giant Forties oilfield in the North Sea. A new boom was on the horizon. Many urban centres on the east coast competed for a piece of the pie. To a considerable extent, the winner was Aberdeen, but facilities were built in many places elsewhere and the largest installation of all came to the central belt: the Grangemouth refinery.

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Grangemouth refinery in the 1950s and today. Photos: RCHAMS (Crown Copyright) / Flickr user Gee01 (Creative Commons)

Just like the coal and shale industries before it, the oil boom brought jobs and cash to central Scotland and Grangemouth rapidly grew with its refinery owned by BP.

Carbon Trade Watch’s film ‘The Carbon connection’ revealed local people’s experiences of the refinery (7): people who can’t sleep at night, strange sickly smells on a daily basis, breathing troubles, and a constant threat of accidents justified a poor safety record. Most recently SEPA fined Grangemouth refinery £100,000 in 2011 after a pipeline leak and fire (8). The last deaths were in 1987 when three were killed by a fire which took hold of leaking gas (9).

Accidents seem to come in spates, and the following year Scotland was the scene of what remains the world’s worst off-shore disaster. 167 died when the giant Piper Alpha platform catastrophically exploded. 49 of the dead were from the towns of the central belt (10). Many of their homes were ex-coal mining towns.

Survivor Jim McDonald from Stirling was the last of his crew to give evidence on the disaster. He told the Cullen enquiry he only knew how to escape the doomed living quarters because he worked on rig’s construction (11).
Studies have revealed the deep pain of Piper Alpha’s legacy: survivors living with post traumatic stress syndrome, families ripped apart, whole communities broken.

Today North Sea oil is in decline. Tax breaks are awarded by the UK Government to encourage drilling of the last untapped acres of the North Sea, but it will do little good. Peak oil was struck in our part of the world in 1999. Lord Browne oversaw BP’s sale of Grangemouth and the refinery is now struggling to make a profit (12). Before long the global oil companies will pack up operations to more lucrative prospects. More towns and villages, and in Aberdeen’s case possibly cities, must lose their heart. The trauma continues.

New gas boom in the Lowlands?

In 2012, Australian gas company ‘Dart Energy’ applied for a licence to start a whole new form of mining in central Scotland. Having drilled 20 test wells already, they propose drilling a 14 commercial wells to tap methane trapped in old coal seams, known as coal-bed methane.

Coal-bed methane poses an number of environmental and health risks including well-founded records of hazardous air, groundwater and surface water pollution (13) (Dart have ruled out the need to use the controversial ‘fracking’ process, but they do use this process at other sites). The industry have admitted that well leakages may be inevitable.

The UK and Scottish Governments say new gas is safe when it is properly regulated, yet elsewhere where regulation has been tightened drilling has stopped (14). It is difficult to escape the conclusion that new gas may simply be “unregulatable”, as UN Advisor Mariann Lloyd-Smith claims (15).

The life-span of a coal-bed methane well is 5 to 15 years, with output typically declining by “between 50% and 75% in the first year of production” (13). Most recoverable gas is usually extracted after just a few years. Given this sheer drop-off in production it is difficult to make a site viable without drilling wells in phases. These 34 wells at Airth won’t be enough: Dart will need to, and may have plans already, to drill further towards Stirling. There could be much more to come.

And the safety fears still abound. Just last year an explosion at a new on-shore gas rig killed 1 and injured 3 in Colorado (16).

The drilling site at Airth is just 5 miles outside of Grangemouth and Dart energy has a habit of reminding planners of its proximity, as if comparison to the refinery should be reassuring.

New gas comes at the right time and place for an industry desperate to find the next big boom, and they have a well funded PR machine making sure we know all about the benefits.

So what about these benefits? As we have seen, coal-bed methane can hardly be described as clean, and its global warming damage is considerable. Low gas prices have abounded on the US market, but crucially these low prices have not reached consumers. Dart’s own website says they have created at most just 37 new jobs (17).

Just as before, what few benefits there are accrue to a very small number of people. And more so than before these benefits will fall away quickly; a get rich quick scheme where once again all the costs are born by local people. In a very short space of time they will drill, spill, take, and leave. The rest of us are left with empty communities and polluted landscapes.

What well informed community could possibly let this happen to itself?

The beginning of a movement

Something may be happening that did not happen when the shale pits were sunk, coal was first mined, and oil was struck: people may be about to stop it.

For whilst the wisdom of their time defined that oil and coal were good for Scotland, there is not much wisdom rooting for new on-shore gas. There are people saying it, certainly, but these are industry people, the few who stand to gain.

This is partly because of the litany of environmental costs identified, the unknown risks, and to some extent the health impacts too. But what tips the balance is the overriding feeling that the benefits of this endeavour are simply not enough to make it worth it. It is too great a sacrifice and a risk to set up this industry only to see it wither in 10 years.

In Scotland, genuine alternatives are making great strides and there is real concern that a new dash for fossil-fuels could sap the energy out of the renewables industry which, evidence suggests, is well placed to sustainably power the country (18). Perhaps we’ve had enough of the boom and bust?

Communities at Airth and Grangemouth are responding. Hard working local campaigners have been out on the streets explaining, informing and encouraging people to take action, and it’s working: over 2000 residents have signed an objection to the proposals at Airth. Partly as a result, Falkirk and Stirling Council extended the outcome of the planning proposal, now referred to the Scottish Government, and in May the news came that Dart had halted its exploratory drilling programme.

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‘Lock the Gate’ demonstration at Seacliff, Australia, October 2011. Coal-seam gas is the Australian term for coal-bed methane. Image: Flickr user Nocsgillawarra

A loose coalition is forming between environmentalists, including in the Falkirk and Stirling Friends of the Earth groups, and local residents associations. The campaign in central Scotland is starting to look like the incredibly successful ‘Lock the Gate’ campaign in Australia: an alliance of community activists, environmentalists, and conservative conservationists that has defied stereotyping. What is all the more remarkable about what’s happening near Grangemouth is that these aren’t conservative people who are simply unfamiliar with this heavy industry: they’re just sick of it.

The Scottish Government is starting to respond too. Whilst a year ago the overriding message was “it’s not our fault: talk to Westminster” (19), change has come in the announcement of the draft National Planning Framework which proposes ‘buffer zones’ around drilling sites. According to Friends of the Earth Scotland if buffer zones were imposed similar to those in place in New South Wales (14) more than half of Dart’s wells would be inoperable.

There is so much to be gained by this campaign. Learning our lesson from history we can turn from boom and bust fossil-fuels towards sustainable industries. We can turn our back on the solutions of rich industrialists and build an economy made for people.

References

(1) Newsnight Scotland, 22 May 2013. Full video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nw0ST73keNI
(2) ‘Morbidity and Mortality Study of Shale Oil Workers’, Environmental Health Perspectives Vol. 30, Jun., 1979, Joseph Costello / Liddell, F. D. K. (1973) ‘Morbidity of British Coal Miners 2961-62’ British Journal of Industrial Medicine, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1973), pp. 1-14
(3) Coal Collections, 2013. Site: http://www.coalcollections.org/
(4) Udstone Mining Disaster and Keir Hardie, 1887. Site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Udston_mining_disaster
(5) ‘Mines blamed for housing collapses’, 30 July, 2001, BBC News. Site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/1463512.stm
(6) ‘Scottish Coal liquidation leads to dispute over clean-ups’, 12 May 2013, The Herald. Site: http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/company-news/scottish-coal-liquidation-leads-to-dispute-over-clean-ups.21050751
(7) ‘The Carbon Connection’ film, 2010, Carbon Trade Watch. Site: http://environmental-justice.com/1615/environmental-justice-campaigning-in-grangemouth-scotland/
(8) ‘Grangemouth refinery operators fined £100,000 after crude oil pipeline leak’, 5 July 2011, STV. Site: http://local.stv.tv/glasgow/261310-grangemouth-refinery-operators-fined-100000-after-crude-oil-pipeline-leak/
(9) ‘Paying the price of safety failures’, 27 July 1999, BBC News. Site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/405090.stm
(10) ‘Oil Platform Disaster: Disaster dead are named’, 9 July 1988, The Guardian (London).
(11) ‘Piper Survivor ‘Crawled over bodies to get out of smoke”, The Glasgow Herald, 25 April 1989. Site: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19890425&id=hjNAAAAAIBAJ&sjid=RFkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3432,2613467
(12) ‘Alarm over Grangemouth refinery losses’, 24 June 2012, Sunday Herald. Site: http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/company-news/alarm-over-grangemouth-refinery-losses.17951522
(13) Toxic Chemicals in the Exploration and Production of Gas from Unconventional Sources, April 2013, National Toxics Network. Site: www.ntn.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/UCgas_report-April-2013.pdf
(14) ‘Coal seam gas buffer zones alarm the miners’, 20 February 2013. Site: http://www.smh.com.au/data-point/coal-seam-gas-buffer-zones-alarm-the-miners-20130219-2epiz.html
(15) ‘Coalbed methane and fracking ‘unregulatable’ says toxins expert’, 20 May 2013, Friends of the Earth Scotland. Site: http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/node/1606
(16) ‘1 dead, 3 hurt in natural gas well explosion near Fort Lupton’, 16 August 2012, Denver Post. Site:
http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_21323110/1-dead-3-hurt-natural-gas-well-explosion
(17) Dart Energy, 2013. Site: http://www.dartenergyscotland.co.uk/about-us.html
(18) ‘The Power of Scotland Secured’, Friends of the Earth Scotland. Site: http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/power-secured
(19) ‘Ministerial Optimism sees Fracking Stumble Ahead onto Uncharted Paths’, 23 January 2012, Ric Lander http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2012/01/ministerial-optimism-sees-fracking-stumble-ahead-onto-uncharted-paths/

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Reposts

Falkirk gas wells to release 5 tonnes of methane a day

• Information obtained by Frack Off Scotland reveals plans to release 7000 times more of the potent greenhouse gas than previously claimed.

• Over 2500 residents have now signed up to support the Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas campaign.


Airth, Falkirk. Photo by Richard Webb, Geograph (licensed under Creative Commons).

Opposition is mounting against Australian company Dart Energy‘s controversial new gas drilling in central and southern Scotland as documents obtained by Frack Off Scotland show the extent of damage the operations will cause.

Information obtained under Freedom of Information legislation and published in the Sunday Herald shows that Dart Energy expect to vent up to 5 tonnes of methane into the atmosphere per day at Airth, Falkirk. According to Frack Off Scotland, the company had previously claimed emissions would not top 0.7kg per day.

The FoI release includes the Airth ‘Field Development Plan’, which states that “a license shall be in place far an allowable five tonnes per day cold venting” and “there will be a provision to facilitate venting and flaring at well sites”. But in a written Q&A session with members of the local community, Dart answered the question “How much methane will be vented to the atmosphere from these vents?” with “The volumes involved will be less than 0.14m3; per day for the whole project”.

Dart Energy’s expansion proposal is currently in planning stages and their application is under consideration with Falkirk and Stirling Councils. Perhaps afraid of the influence of local people on the planning process Dart Energy have appealed for the Scottish Government to take away the local authorities power over the development. Reassurances that no licence to “frack” for gas has been requested have not placated local people and environmentalists who remain concerned about the wide range of impacts of drilling for coal-bed methane.

A new local coalition, the Concerned Communities of Falkirk, has been mapping opposition from local people having enlisted named support from two thirds of residents in the most affected neighbourhoods in Falkirk.


Over 100 local people were joined by Australian coal-bed methane campaigner Dr. Mariann Lloyd-Smith in Falkirk on 22 May 2013. Photo by Ric Lander (licensed under Creative Commons)

As well as the impact to the local community high methane emissions would undermine Scotland’s hard won leadership Scotland on climate change. Methane is 27 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and Frack Off Scotland estimate that if they released their planned emissions over the 25-year lifetime of the wells 1.2 million tonnes CO2 equivalent of gas would be released: 2% of Scotland’s current carbon emissions.

This doesn’t account for so called “fugitive” emissions and emissions from flaring, both of which are likely to occur at Airth. Such effects smash Dart’s preferred image of new gas as a clean fuel.

Information about wider health and environmental impacts can only be guessed at as the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) have refused to publish full field development plans, citing commercial confidentiality. Data on methane emissions was also refused but released after an appeal

Frack Off have confirmed that they are appealing to the Scottish Information Commissioner to receive the full development plans.

– See more at: http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2013/07/fracking-falkirk-gas-wells-to-release-5-tonnes-of-methane-a-day/#sthash.JMIpNGV5.dpuf

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Original

7 Pillars of Awesome Events

Following a series of well received workshops on event planning for community groups (People & Planet Scotland Gathering, 2011; Strathclyde Sustainable Futures, 2012; Edinburgh Do, 2013) I’ve written up my golden rules for activist event planning for download.

If you know someone who’s involved in community organising they should find it easy to use and useful for many purposes.

You can read it now on my website:

The document is also available as a printable PDF handout.

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Reposts

Eight steps to cut economic growth

Eight steps to cut economic growth, by George Osborne MP

1. Encourage savings and inheritance

Ten steps to cut economic growth, by George Osborne MP
Encouraging people to pass on their wealth unused to the next generation is a great way to reduce the amount of money flowing through the economy. I’ve not yet been able to deliver my full plan for cutting growth in this way, but you can be sure we will deliver this plan once the opportunity arises.

Our new policy for social care is centred on home-owners. Naturally reducing care costs for people is helpful in general, but we’ve made sure our plan delivers as little benefit to the wider economy as possible. By focusing on delivering benefits to people who already have assets, we’re making sure they keep them and pass them on to the next generation, rather than have that money put back into the economy.

2. Cut welfare

Trimming down welfare payments takes cash away from people who don’t have excess income. As these people are very likely to spend the money they receive, giving money to them is a good way to get money flowing round the economy. By cutting welfare, we’re keeping this to a minimum. Chop chop chop!

3. Print money, but give it to people who won’t spend it

Although we’re not for more borrowing, we are happy to print a small (£375bn) amount of money for the benefit of our pals at the banks. This is a highly effective way to slow economic growth, as compared to other forms of spending (see above and below) it doesn’t go very far, and may very well end up being spent on the kind of financial products that caused the financial crisis.

4. Cut departmental budgets

Taking money out of Government services directly raises unemployment, taking money out of people’s pockets and taking custom away from procurement services and contractors. That’s why cutting departmental budgets is such a great way to take money out of the economy and cut growth. Onward!

5. Split the country into bits

Our compelling agenda for a somehow better Britain is doing wonders for the ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign, helping Scots see just how much better a job they could do running the economy themselves. Once their gone we can kiss that oil revenue goodbye!

6. Confuse small businesses with new tax procedures

I’ve just cut National Insurance for small businesses. Since new and small businesses are a key way in which an economy stays dynamic, this should be good news, but it’s not so simple. I’ve cut corporation tax for big business but not for small businesses: small businesses must now pay a different rate. So plenty of new systems to plan for and make sense of, but not much money to be saved.

7. Invest in unproven expensive energy sources and create uncertainty over reliable ones

Nuclear power and gas fracking are risky and expensive, so I’ve promoted them above simpler renewable technologies which could deliver in short timescales, to make sure we pay higher costs now, and don’t get any benefits until many years in the future.

8. Apply tax breaks, but only to people who already have excess cash

The new 45p top rate of tax and higher ‘personal allowance’ of £10,000 are proud achievements, cutting the tax of people who are in work and already making a money. This is a big part of my economy-crashing strategy, as it means that only people who already have money get assistance. As they don’t need much extra cash, most of these lost tax receipts will go into bank accounts and sit quietly for many years to come.

As you can see, by following my trusted formula, you get dependable results every time. Low growth, no growth, even negative growth is possible! The likes of Germany, USA, Iceland, and other recovering economies have a lot to learn about macroeconomics from me, George Osborne MP. It’s amazing to think that when I came into this job I only had a BA in Modern History.

This post was originally published on budget day at Bright Green.

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News and updates

Cairn Energy in the Arctic Casino

Founders foesand chair of the Greenland Oil Industry Association, Edinburgh based Cairn Energy are by far the most active oil company in Greenland.

This report, written by Ric Lander for Friends of the Earth Scotland’s new Corporate Accountability campaign, details Cairn’s risky prospecting in the high Arctic. The briefing examines chemical spills, threats to marine wildlife, safety concerns, and the complex web of political and financial links which make Arctic drilling possible.

Cairn Energy: Arctic Cowboys – Executive Summary

  • Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy is by far the largest oil company operating in Greenland. They founded and chair the Greenland Oil Industry Association and have drilled eight out of the fourteen wells ever drilled offshore in Greenland.
  • Cairn admit that all of their operations in Greenland are in areas “sensitive in terms of biodiversity”. Numerous sensitive habitats and IUCN red-listed species inhabit the areas in which they operate including Blue Whale, Sei Whale, Narwhal, Walrus, White-tailed Eagle, Hooded Seal and Polar Bear.
  • Cairn refused to publish a spill response plan for their operations but in 2011, following a high-profile campaign by Greenpeace, the plan was published by the Greenlandic Government.
  • The plan has multiple shortcomings, most crucially that Cairn’s plan is not adequate to enable a full and speedy clean-up of the kind of spill which could happen in the area. It is likely that a spill would have catastrophic impacts on the Arctic environment.
  • Despite specific policy claims to reduce pollution rates, Cairn’s emissions of green-house gas emissions, NOx, VOCs have all increased over the last five years.
  • Cairn has received millions of pounds of funding from UK taxpayers via the bailed out UK banks RBS and Lloyds Group, and the World Bank division the ‘International Finance Corporation’.
  • David Cameron personally intervened to help Cairn raise money which was used to finance their Arctic drilling campaign.
  • Cairn have relationships with a number of charitable and educational institutions in Scotland including the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt, and the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
  • After two years of failure, Cairn have not been actively drilling in the Arctic in 2012, and may pull out of the region all together if they are under enough pressure.
  • Investment managers are beginning to see that the risks of Arctic drilling are making them an increasingly poor investment.
  • Friends of the Earth Scotland are calling for a final end to Cairn’s operations in Greenland and a moratorium on the operations of Scottish oil companies in the Arctic.

The full report can be downloaded in full from Friends of the Earth Scotland:

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Reposts

Is Britain becoming Gasland?

fracking_bannerIt’s not every day that you see images of farmland turned to wasteland, normally healthy people describing their unnatural diseases, and the killer: people’s tap water catching on fire.

Welcome to Gasland, Josh Fox’s excellent 2010 flick about hydraulic gas fracturing, or “fracking”, in the US which has picked up laurels from numerous festivals not to mention being nominated for the Academy Award. Yet although cinemas showings have met critical acclaim, like most activist-documentaries the film’s enduring appeal is its ability to shock, compelling the viewer to organise the next screening in scratch living room viewings or student union events.

The film gives us a dystopian picture of a world where energy supply takes complete precedence over almost ever other human need. Of course, this is isn’t an image of the future, it’s the world we live in today, and that’s why in February People & Planet voted overwhelmingly to start campaigning on fracking and other methods of unconventional fossil fuel extraction.

The resource under the spotlight is natural gas and with conventional supplies dwindling, the price of gas riding historically high, and plenty of gas-fired power stations to feed, the UK Government is keen to see new sources developed. Gas companies are after two unconventional forms in Britain: shale gas and coal-bed methane. Reservoirs are trapped in seams of rock, and by pumping a mixture of water and chemicals into the seam at explosive pressures the gas can be tapped – this is fracking, and although it is not always used, when it has been there are many records of natural gas and fracking chemicals polluting ground and surface-water and large-scale earth tremors.

British politicians have sought to reassure us that the problems shown in Gasland are a result of poor regulation: an American problem. But research as to the true local impacts in the is not yet conclusive giving campaigners little to be confident about. The global impact though, it clear: a 2011 report by the respected Tyndall Centre condemned exploitation of these resources as being incompatible with cutting carbon emissions.

Fracking and unconventional gas is not the fight for our movement, but the scale and pace of this risky technology’s development is symptomatic of the state of our world in the early 21st century: a society desperate to cling on to failing systems, at almost any cost. If we’re to move towards a greener society, we must stop feeding our addiction to fossil fuels.

This article was written as a contribution to the People & Planet magazine ‘The Activist, Winter 2012 edition.

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