In the first week of the Dart Energy Public Inquiry we heard detailed evidence relating to the gas and water treatment facility (GDWTF), drilling, geology, hydrogeology and fugitive emissions. Our QC Sir Crispin Agnew carried out a thorough cross-examination of Dart Energy's witnesses on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday our first witness, Professor David Smythe, gave his evidence and he was followed by Dr Shaun Salmon, Falkirk Council's AMEC witness, who gave evidence on Friday.
Some points to emerge so far:
- Dart are unable to confirm at this stage how much gas they would expect to be flared or vented off at the GDWTF. Quantities will be discussed with SEPA at a later date.
- The GDWTF will produce a tankerload of sludge every day - possibly reduced to a smaller volume by removing further water from the sludge.
- The GDWTF will have the capability to be monitored remotely - staffing levels will be kept to a minimum but it is unclear at this stage if it will ever be left unmanned. Safety systems will be automatic.
- Dart's geologists stated that they have access to data such as confidential drilling records and other data which has not been made available to the inquiry. Much of this data is either impossible, or very expensive, for third parties to obtain. It is therefore hard for the reporters and third parties to assess the conclusions Dart draw from this data.
- Experts disagree over whether faults act as seals or pathways for fugitive gas emissions.
- Dart do not see a problem with drilling through faults. They admitted that they have done so several times already in the proposed development area (recently with Airth 13) and generally keep on drilling for up to 12 hours hoping to find the coal on the other side of the fault.
- Prof Smythe said that faults are potential pathways for methane to escape.
- Dart maintain that fugitive methane emissions are not possible because of the strong "directional pressure" (hydraulic gradient) created by the dewatering process. It remains a concern of CCoF and AMEC that faults and/or blockages in the wells could interrupt the pressure gradient and complicate the situation, potentially giving the gas a number of options to escape.
- Prof Smythe pointed out flaws in Dart's interpretation of the geology and also pointed out errors on key maps submitted to the inquiry.
- Prof Smythe said that a 3D seismic survey would give valuable information about the geology of the area.
- Dr Salmon expressed his concern regarding the lack of data in Dart's Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and the lack of data subsequently supplied by Dart to AMEC. He also discussed long baseline monitoring which is an integral part of the environmental assessment process and he said that he does not understand why it is not going on now.
- Dr Salmon raised concerns over SEPA's remit. He is not convinced that SEPA have sufficiently understood the concerns over fugitive gas emissions.
- Dr Salmon raised serious concerns over the development causing dewatering of old mineworkings in the area (in particular the old mineworkings at Bannockburn). This could generate methane in the old mines, which is "potentially a very dangerous situation because those old mineworkings are very extensive in that area and there is quite a degree of development in that area" he said.
- Dr Salmon feels the work AMEC have done merits consideration, but suspects SEPA have given it little consideration at this stage.
Friends of the Earth Scotland have also been writing a blog of the Inquiry which you can read here: http://www.blog.foe-scotland.org.uk.