There have long been concerns about the efficacy of Scotland’s key national agency - the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).
These concerns relate to indescribable deficiencies at the ‘sewage treatment’ and ‘water treatment’ plant, cover its lack of authority to monitor or control environmentally impacting activities at defence establishment in Scotland; and its operation in the energy industry, both the traditional oil and gas industries and the new renewable energy industry.
There was recent widescale national alarm over the mining operations of the Quadrilla company with a test drill into the oil shales of the Trough of Bowland in Lancashire. It has just been admitted in an internal company report, that it was, as scientifically suspected, the ‘fracking’ operation at that test drill that caused significant earth tremors under that part of the world, including Blackpool.
At the time of the earthquakes and before the admission of responsibility (but Quadrilla is carrying on drilling anyway), we carried a substantial research article on the highly controversial practice of fracking (http://forargyll.com/2011/09/fracking-facts-pros-cons-and-issues/). This would be a good time for folk in Dumfries and Galloway to read it. They seem to have no or little idea what risks – and long term risks – they are to be exposed to.
In summary, fracking drills around 9,000 deep into oil and gas bearing shale strata, runs a horizontal drill several thousand feet at that level, carries out controlled detonations into the rock there to cause initial fractures. Then it forces ”drilling mud’ – a mix of water, sand and toxic chemicals (carcinogenic) at super high pressure into the rock fractures to open them up and keep them open while the gas escapes and makes its way to the surface.
This is, environmentally, a dangerous and a highly damaging technique which has been proven – not simply alleged – to cause earthquakes and, much more serioulsy, to poison the water table and water supplies through rivers, lochs and reservoirs.. These are not remote possibilities, They are are highly likely consequences of this technique of shock-shattering gas out of the earth.
SEPA has just given the go ahead to the first fracking venture in Scotland.
It has OKd the appallingly misnamed Greenpark Energy to extract by fracking gas locked in coal shales below Canonbie in Dumfries and Galloway. The company is reported already to have carried out test drills.
Given the weight of scientific evidence for the volatility and environmental risks of fracking – and given the evidence of serious damage done – to the health of people as well as to the land – in America, where the practice has a history, it is beyond belief that SEPA has seen fit to subject Dumfries and Galloway to this high risk private sector commercial adventure.
Environmental bodies like Friends of the Earth are anxious about this permission and its potential consequences. Locals seem to be astonishingly ignorant – with the Vice Chair of Canonbie Community Council blithely telling The Herald today that there’s nothing for Canonbie to worry about. His ‘evidence’ ‘for this monumentally ignorant statement is that, for some reason fracking will be OK at Canonbie because the Quadrilla operation in the Blackpool area was ‘offshore’.
Firstly, it is the depth of rock drilled into and then detonated and fractured under high pressure that creates the risk of earth tremors. It doesn’t make much difference whether the drilling begins on land or on the sea bed. Secondly, it is the return to the surface of the toxic drilling mud that has been used to fracture the shale rock below – and its huge secure storage problems – that brings the very real risk of water pollution. Thirdly, for what its worth, the Quadrilla operation was not offshore, It was on land.
Canonbie – and a significant area of Dumfries and Galloway around it, should give careful and informed consideration to the possibility, less of earthquakes than of the pollution of its water tables and water supplies. This could not be more serious.
And SEPA? Replace it. We cannot go on hoping it will get more competent.