Monthly Archives: March 2011

More positively – surge in local media coverage on fracking

Yesterday saw good coverage in the South Wales Echo and Western Mail:
http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/03/30/villagers-launch-campaign-against-gas-drilling-plan-91466-28426599/ 

Today we had Catrin O’Neill from the http://thevalesaysno.com/ campaign being interviewed at length on Radio Cardiff at lunchtime.
She was fantastic (bar a couple of minor factual inaccuracies) and cannot failed to have stirred up the listeners interest in the issue.

We have also got an excellent front page piece, followed up on page 3, of the GEM.

Call In Request refused by WAG ministers

I cannot honestly say that this surprises me. It was always going to be an uphill battle to get the test drilling proposal called in by WAG. It should be easier once actually fracking is part of the proposed activity in a subsequent application.
However, I still think we have a real, but outside chance of getting VoG to reject it, which in itself would be an important landmark event.
The battle is likely to have to go the distance, I suspect, and the distance is a very long haul I am afraid. 

I will not be submitting any further call in requests for test drilling applications, for the time being at least. I will try again on Phase Two – exploratory wells – which will probably involve trial fracking ahead of Phase Three – full scale production.

Full text of letter received from WAG is below:

Dear Mr Chyba

TOWN AND COUNTRY PLANNING ACT 1990 – SECTION 77
CALL IN REQUEST
APPLICATION FOR PLANNING PERMISSION TO DRILL AND TEST THE INSITU
LOWER LIMESTONE SHALE AND ASSOCIATED STRATA
LAND AT UNIT 1, LLANDOW INDUSTRIAL ESTATE, COBRIDGE
APPLICATION NO. 2011100115/FUL

I refer to your earlier correspondence asking the Welsh Ministers to call in the planning
Application referred to in the title to this letter.

I have considered the issues associated with the application in the light of the Welsh
Assembly Government’s policy on call-in (detailed in Planning Policy Wales) and have
Concluded that they are not of more than local importance. 1 have informed the Vale of
Glamorgan Council that I do not consider that the application should be called in for
Determination by the Welsh Ministers. It is now for the Council to determine the application.

In reaching my decision 1 did not consider the planning merits of the proposed development
And my decision not to call in the application should not in any way be taken as a reflection
On the planning merits of the proposal. There are, however, two points I would like to make.

The first is that the decision not to call in this application is not, nor should it be construed
As, an indication of the view of the Welsh Ministers on the merits of this application or any
Future application for development associated with the extraction of shale gas. It is simply
An indication that the Welsh Ministers saw no reason to take the responsibility for the

Determination of this application out of the hands of the local planning authority.

The second is that should the applicants decide at a later stage that they wish to extract
Shale gas then they would have to submit not only a further, separate, application to the
Local planning authority for planning permission but also obtain any necessary licences or
Consents that may be required from other bodies eg Environment Agency Wales, Health
And Safety Executive.

Yours sincerely

S M JONES

Deputy Head,
Decisions Branch
Planning Division

Signed under authority of the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing,
One of the Welsh Ministers

‘Noble’ War In Libya

Thanks to Tunny Griffiths for these links from an excellent organisation called Media Lens

Part 1 – http://medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=608:noble-war-in-libya-part-1&catid=24:alerts-2011&Itemid=68
Part 2 – http://medialens.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=1&Itemid=8

This in depth analysis of the intervention in Libya is spot on.
It also underlines the way our dependence on fossil fuels distorts our morality (something in common with the closer-to=home fracking issue).

Here is a small extract to whet your appetite:

The claim of noble intent is challenged by Western indifference to mass killing in Yemen and Bahrain using Western weapons. Cockburn writes in the Independent:

The worst verifiable atrocity in the Arab world in the past week was not in Libya but in Yemen, where pro-government gunmen machine-gunned an unarmed demonstration last Friday, killing 52 people.

Asked whether the United States still supported Yemens dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, or if it was time for him to go, US defence secretary Robert Gates said:

I don’t think it’s my place to talk about internal affairs in Yemen.

Saleh is an ally of the US against al-Qaeda, Eugene Robinson observes in the Washington Post, and therefore, is a useful tyrant. He gets nudges, not bombs.

He better remain so, as look what happened to Saddam Hussein when he stopped being a useful tyrant to West.

More Fracking Developments – including House of Lords debate and the first use of fracking in the UK

Article focussing, as predicted, just on Llandow is in the Western Mail/South Wales Echo today I believe – online version here:
http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/03/30/villagers-launch-campaign-against-gas-drilling-plan-91466-28426599/
This goes to show that local residents rising up and making a big fuss can grab the attention of the media in a way that banging on about it from experts and politicians cannot. There are important lessons to be learned here.

There was a short debate held in the House of Lords on 28th March in response to the question:
“What are the likely implications of the discovery of shale gas on United Kingdom energy policy.”
Transcript here: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2011-03-28a.952.1

I find the level of misunderstanding, ignorance and complacency in this debate very worrying indeed.

Lord Marland’s light-hearted Call-my-bluff quips underline that, despite being Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Energy and Climate Change, he does not really know what he is talking about.

When asked ” Is the Minister satisfied that fracking is environmentally safe?” he replies, utterly erroneously: “It is hydraulic fracturing-sending in water and chemicals to discover whether there is shale gas there.” !!!

And he goes on to suggest the Environment Agency can be trusted to monitor any water issues.
He then goes on to state that exploratory work for these gas reserves is “largely in the area around Blackpool. I understand that there will be some investigation in Southport and on that coastline. I am not a geologist but it presumably links in some form to Morecambe Bay. That is largely the area that is being investigated.”
Hello!!!! Over here my Lord!

Baroness Smith of Basildon, clearly not satisfied, asks why not hold fire until after the Select Committee report is published, or the USEPA report on implications for humans and the environment.
Lord Marland replies: “We have evidence in the United States, as has been referenced. This has been going on for some time, so it is a proven technology. As I mentioned, the Environment Agency is on site to ensure that the process is taking place properly, so I am very comfortable with that. This is not a new technology. We have been using the fracking process in gas development for a very long time, so we have the safeguards in place.”

Lord Roxburgh raises one of my principal concerns about the whole business: “Does the Minister agree that some of the difficulties with shale gas exploitation in North America and elsewhere have arisen because of an unsatisfactory regulatory regime or through regimes being put into place too late? Is he satisfied that the existing regulatory regime that would cover shale gas exploitation in this country is adequate and derives full benefit from the experience of shale gas exploitation elsewhere?”
It seems patently obvious to me that relying on County Council Planning Departments and the Environment Agency is totally inadequate for these subterranean hydrology and geology issues. These are highly complex and specialised areas and all the independent expert testimony I can find suggests that this whole business is utter madness.
Lord Marland’s patronising response: “The noble Lord is a great expert in this field. However, we have been exploring gas in this country for many years and have a very long knowledge of it. We have extremely sound regulation, but that does not mean that we are complacent about it. We have a very sound industry structure that has stood the test of time, and a great deal of knowledge.”

Well, Lord Marland, I suspect the same is true of the French and the Germans, but it was reported yesterday that France has imposed a moratorium on shale gas development, while the German state of North Rhine Westphalia last week asked US ExxonMobil to hold off from fracking work until the end of the year while an expert opinion was prepared on possible impacts.
The same report informs us the the Cuadrilla site, near Blackpool, started using chemical fracking for the first time on Monday afternoon (28th March)
http://www.platts.com/RSSFeedDetailedNews/RSSFeed/NaturalGas/8720895

Fracking Campaign Update

The meeting called by local residents in Llandow last night was a huge success. The Hall was packed out and there were more people present than homes in Llandow (est 70-80)! And all at less than 48 hours notice. 

I was happy to accept the invitation to be the principal speaker. I outlined what is involved, what has been seen to go wrong and what is at stake. I stressed that this was an issue far beyond the immediate environs of Llandow and that even if this proposal was defeated, there will be more, and even those some distance away can pose threats. This has to be more than a NIMBY protest, and I think that was well understood by the end.

The people of Llandow are prepared to lead the way in making this the huge issue it needs to become. Another local resident has already booked a bigger venue in Llantwit Major, the LLantonian Hall, for another public meeting next Wednesday at 7pm. In light of the proposals that have come to light again in Bridgend CBC, near Llangynwyd/Bettws and Maesteg, we ought to strive to support this meeting and campaign. Let me know if any body would like a lift.

I have also initiated dialogue with St Donats Art Centre with a view to getting them to screen GASLAND in their cinema. This film graphically illustrates what is at stake and shows the lessons we need to learn from mistakes stateside. Details as and when I get them. The film is also available on DVD (hire: http://www.lovefilm.com/film/GasLand/158608/ ; buy: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gasland-DVD-Josh-Fox/dp/B004CSKCT0/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1301402493&sr=1-1 )

I have formally requested the Call In of the Cwmdu, Maesteg proposal by WAG. Unfortunately, in undertaking this exercise, I uncovered another application for a site roughly half way between Llangynwyd and Bettws (if you draw a straight line between the two). This has got under my radar and was granted ‘temporary approval’ on 10th March. Temporary approval means, in this case, that they only have initial permission to operate for a period of three months after drilling commences.

Various press releases have been issued by Bridgend and the Vale Green Parties and the regional media, as well as the local media are beginning to sit up and take notice.
I missed this BBC Wales story at the time it was broadcast recently: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-12629093
This is a largely a rehash of an old newsnight story (posted before), but it was interesting to hear quotes from Bridgend based Coastal Oil & Gas Ltd. ‘Too deep to be a problem‘ they say. Absolute nonsense. ‘Fracking not responsible for the problems in North America’ they say. This denial of the evidence on a par with the flat earth nutters. ‘Potentially life changing’ they say. Spot on!! But not in the ways they mean, I suspect.

I have also been in dialogue with a Western Mail / South Wales Echo journalist, Peter Law, who is following the story, but with a curious focus just on just Llandow it seems. He is telling me that they will be running a story tomorrow (Wednesday). Look out for that.

More soon – no doubt!
Andy

PRESS RELEASE – Rash of Fracking applications in danger of becoming an epidemic of ‘Gasland’ proportions

Bridgend Green Party first became aware of three planning applications for fracking proposals in locations just to the north of Bridgend (Llangeinor/Bettws/Ognore Vale) by Centrica. We instigated a campaign against these proposals, but it did not not need to go very far as Centrica quickly withdrew their proposals from Bridgend CBC.
We could not relax for long. Investigations revealed that Centrica had 5 proposals before Neath Port Talbot CBC, two of which had approval. Then the proposal by Bridgend based Coastal Oil & Gas Ltd at Llandow came to light. Local residents quickly sought our help in opposing this, leading to websites, petitions, letter writing and public meetings.
Back in Bridgend, a proposal by UK Methane Ltd at Cwmdu, just outside Maesteg has come to light. I have asked for this and the Llandow proposal to be called for scrutiny by WAG. They insist obn going through this time consuming procedure for each application separately. I have now stumbled across yet another one in Bridgend CBC by Coastal Oil & Gas at Cwmcydfyw, between Llangynwyd and Bettws. This one was granted ‘temporary approval’ a couple of weeks ago.
I know of other applications over near Swansea, and there will be ones in RCT and Merthyr Tydfil,  but I cannot keep track of them all any more. The whole of the South Wales coalfield area (and a bit beyond) has already been licensed out by the Department of Energy. There could be applications anywhere, at any time. I initially wanted all coal bed methane applications called in, for reasons that should be becoming clear by now. We are facing a scattering of proposals that could occur at almost any random spot across the South Wales Coalfield area (and  bit beyond), at any time and from a wide range of PEDL licence holders, across numerous planning authorities. Dealing with each one separately is crazy and is only going to increase the probability of nasty consequences somewhere. As the consequences are so far reaching, some joined up thinking is desperately needed. Surely that is grounds for calling in.
The authorities seem to be literally out of their depth in having access to the right expertise in dealing with these subterranean activities. The threat to groundwater and the consequences for human health and wildlife are well documented. The WAG needs to take the initiative and recognise the unusual nature of the threat and the unsuitability of existing planning practices in dealing with it.The mere nature of the proposals should make this self-evident. They are not going to simply drill straight down. They are steering drills into horizontal (or near horizontal) beds that extend many hundreds of metres away from the surface site, under other peoples’ land (which may not even be in the local authority area that allows the proposal). Once fluids are put into the ground, they could access the water cycle and thereby have no bounds at all.
This is not a trivial or minor threat. Vast swathes of the USA have been blighted by fracking – and it all started with the same activitiies we are already beginning to witness, and which found their way around the local regulators in ways that seem likely to happen here too – unless something is done sooner rather than later. GASLAND is out on DVD. It is there as a stark warning of what we could witness here in South Wales.
Fossil fuel exploitation – coal – has wrought enough damage to the landscape of Wales and the health of miners. This threat could make all that pale into insignificance.
   
Andy Chyba
Bridgend Green Party
END

Rash of Fracking proposals is proving hard to keep track of!!

I have just submitted a Call In request to Wag for the Test drilling application at Cwmdu just outside Maesteg and in going through the documentation for this I stumbled across one that has just received ‘Temporary Approval’ at Cwmcedfyw farm, which is (yet again, tucked away in the middle of nowhere half way between Llangynwyd and Bettws.

This one was submitted by UK Methane Ltd back in November last year and was granted its approval on 10th March, just gone.

We really are going to have to think about how to deal with this situation from now on.

I have nade this point in my submissions:

The reason I initially wanted all coal bed methane applications called in should be becoming clear by now. We are facing a scattering of proposals that could occur at almost any random spot across the South Wales Coalfield area (and bit beyond), at any time and from a wide range of PEDL licence holders, across numerous planning authorities. Dealing with each one separately is crazy and is only going to increase the probability of nasty consequences somewhere. As the consequences are so far reaching, some joined up thinking is desperately needed.

The powers that be are still insisting that each separate application has be addressed individually. If they are not going to join up their thinking we will have to join up ours and work out how best to raise the profile of the issue.