Mark Lappin, the European boss of Dart Energy and the public face of the company’s controversial plan to exploit underground gas in Scotland, has resigned.
He left on Friday to take up a better-paid job with the gas firm, Centrica, in Aberdeen, where he lives. His departure follows the stalling of Dart’s planning applications to sink 22 wells at 14 sites to extract coalbed methane at Airth near Falkirk.
After prolonged delays by Falkirk and Stirling councils and over 1,500 objections, Dart appealed to the Scottish government for a decision last month. But now both councils have urged ministers to hold a public inquiry.
Lappin joined Dart Energy in April 2012 as Europe General Manager responsible for progressing the company’s flagship development at Airth. Before that he worked for 16 years with the US oil giant, ExxonMobile, in Aberdeen, Texas and Germany.
HIs departure follows the loss of another senior manager, Lynne Campbell, four weeks ago. A further four staff have also had to go in the last two weeks.
Dart is having to shed 70% of its staff worldwide after the introduction of tough government regulations forced it to withdraw from Australia, where the company has its registered office.
Critics say that Lappin’s leaving is “another nail in the coffin” for their plans in Europe. “Dart's development in Falkirk has been stalled, we hope permanently, due to overwhelming public opposition,” said Ed Pybus from the campaign group, Frack Off Scotland.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Mark Lappin has deserted the sinking ship, obviously realising that Dart's deeply unpopular proposal at Airth isn't going to make it through the expected lengthy planning inquiry.”
But a Dart spokesman insisted it was “complete nonsense” to suggest that Lappin’s departure indicated any loss of resolve to exploit coalbed methane in Scotland. Before he left he had been “upbeat” about the prospects, the spokesman said.
With the “operational phase stalled” and the project at the appeal stage, “his job was done,” the spokesman added. But Lappin was not being replaced, and his work would be shared by some of the 29 staff who remain.
Read earlier stories about Dart Energy here.