Dart Energy insists that it has “no plans” to mine shale gas in Scotland. But in a submission to the Australian stock exchange it has highlighted two major shale fields near Falkirk containing more than two trillion cubic feet of gas as “prospective” developments.
The company also has an agreement with the BG gas group for the rights to one of the shale fields, and has been promoting its Scottish shale gas assets to potential investors.
Shale gas is trapped in rock formations deep underground. It is freed by pumping in liquids under high pressure to deliberately fracture the rock, a process known as fracking.
But fracking has been blamed for causing earthquakes, and for contaminating water supplies with toxic chemicals. It can also boost the pollution that is disrupting the climate.
Dart has applied for planning permission to sink 22 wells at 14 sites at Airth near Falkirk to extract another type of underground gas known as coalbed methane. But it has tried to distance itself from fracking, and insists it isn’t planning to exploit shale gas.
But critics allege that the company has either been misleading the public or its shareholders over its shale fracking plans. “What it has said to the local community and what company reports say to shareholders simply can't both be true,” said Mary Church, campaigns co-ordinator with Friends of the Earth Scotland.
"In an effort to get the Airth coalbed methane project past the local community and planners, Dart is being extremely economical with the truth and hiding its real plans to exploit shale gas in the area.”
Dart Energy’s coalbed methane applications have prompted more than 600 objections to Falkirk and Stirling councils, and were the target of protestors in animal costumes in Stirling yesterday. The applications are due to be considered in May at the earliest.
In a submission to the Australian stock exchange on 10 May 2012, Dart Energy included Black Metal Shale and Lothian (Broxburn) Shale in central Scotland as part of its “shale gas prospects” in Europe. The two fields were estimated to contain a total of 2.5 trillion cubic feet of shale gas.
Dart’s chief executive, John McGoldrick, was quoted saying the company planned to develop the shale gas, as it had coalbed methane. “We plan over the coming years to progressively mature some of the resource from the current OGIP [Original Gas-in-Place] position into contingent resource, and ultimately reserves,” he said.
According to its 2012 annual report (7.6MB pdf), Dart has a 100% interest in the gas rights to Black Metal Shale. The company also operates the license for the rights to Lothian (Broxburn) Shale, though it shares ownership under an agreement with the BG Group.
Dart was accused of “lack of transparency” by Labour’s Scottish environment spokeswoman, Claire Baker MSP. “This evidence indicates that, contrary to current applications, companies settling in Scotland have plans to extract shale gas by fracking,” she said.
“This shows why we need leadership from the Scottish government and a robust regulatory regime - or else we run the risk of fracking coming in under the radar.”
The company was also attacked by Mark Ruskell, a Stirling councillor and former Green MSP. It was using its plans for coalbed methane as a “political door wedge” to keep options open for fracking in the future, he said.
He pointed out that the UK government budget earlier this month had given “huge Tory tax breaks” to encourage the exploitation of shale gas. “A moratorium is the only sensible way forward,” he argued.
Ed Pybus, from the campaign group Frack Off Scotland, claimed that Dart was “deliberately misleading” the public about fracking to try and minimise opposition to its plans. “It should realise that the community in Airth is united in its opposition to all Dart's unconventional gas developments,” he said.
Dart has always insisted that its “focus of operations” in Scotland is the exploitation of coalbed methane. It has said that it has “no plans” to use fracking to get at the methane, and that the wells it was designing couldn’t be used to frack.
"Dart Energy has no plans to exploit shale gas in central Scotland,” a company spokesman told the Sunday Herald. When pressed, he declined to say any more.
The BG Group confirmed it had an agreement with Dart covering a shale gas field in Scotland. “It is not part of our plan to develop it at this time and no decision has been made to drill,” said a company spokesman.
This story was followed up by Scotland on Sunday.