Anger spills over at fracking meeting

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The boss of Grangemouth-based gas giant Ineos was harangued and jeered at a stormy Cumbernauld meeting about fracking.

For operations director Tom Pickering it was a repeat performance of angry clashes with protestors elsewhere – but just the start of a fraught process local protesters say has already become a war of nerves.

Swiss-based multinational Ineos has secured licences to dig test shafts at locations across a huge swathe of the Central Belt, but is currently stymied by a Scottish Government moratorium.

However many of those present at the packed “public engagement” session in Greenfaulds High School fear this ban will inevitably be lifted – perhaps after a lengthy public consultation.

And that would see Ineos submitting planning applications for bore-holes designed to find whether – as they hope – this part of Scotland is a potentially rich source of shale oil.

If their plan goes ahead there will be major planning rows over claims of potential pollution of the water supply, unacceptable levels of lorry traffic, and the risk of deadly methane escaping into the atmosphere ... even of earthquakes.

Mr Pickering’s task is to try and allay at least some of these “misconceptions”, as he calls some of the claims, a task he concedes will be a long and difficult process.

First on the scene at Greenfaulds were environmental activists from HUGE (Halt Unconventional Gas Extraction) and Scottish Green Party members.

But they were greatly outnumbered by people who were not regular activists, and who seemed to be a broad cross section of Cumbernauld everyday life.

The area around the town is now a zone code, PEDL 162, within which “suitable” sites could one day see major exploratory drilling operations.

Ineos have said they will pay compensation to householders, but this has been derided by protesters as “a bribe”, amid claims few if any would gain meaningful compensation for the damage they would expect to the value of their homes.

Mr Pickering explained how if test drilling goes live it will take three to five weeks to find whether it will work or not – and there would be a two year run--up to the first “frack”.

Their rig would dig a shaft 2,400 metres deep, and if the site proved suitable a cluster of wells would cover an area of two to three kilometers.

After a drilling period of just over two months the apparatus would be cleared away, and horizontal mining would begin in earnest.

It was at this point in the meeting that what had been a steady current of criticism from the audience became a torrent.

The stormy and long drawn out industrial row at Ineos in Grangemouth, which for a time had been threatened with closure, resurfaced – with some demanding to know whether owner Jim Radcliffe would “hold the country to ransom” if he wasn’t allowed to carry out fracking.

He was accused of being “as good for industrial relations as Craig Whyte has been for Rangers”.

Mr Pickering’s assessment was that while Grangemouth’s future is assured for 15 years, thanks to a shale oil deal with USA providers, it’s a case of “what happens then?”

The attraction of a conveniently close source of supply close to Grangemouth is compelling enough for Ineos to warrant a gamble on test-drilling in areas like Cumbernauld.

The two-hour meeting was too short for any of the technical arguments to be explored in any detail – more time has been devoted to meetings over individual wind turbines – but was enough to show that Cumbernauld already has an active opposition in place.

Local woman Lynsay Wallace lambasted Mr Pickering, shouting: “Shame on you! I don’t know how you sleep at night”, while others yelled that Ineos are “greedy” and “despicable”.

The Ineos team appeared set to abandon the meeting at one point, but ploughed on to its appointed finishing time.

Local councillor Paddy Hogg won applause for a blistering tirade which amounted to the claim that no serious analysis has gone into the possible health or environmental impact on Cumbernauld or other communities.

“Things always go wrong,” he said. “The idea of 100 per cent safety is a blatant lie”.

He rhymed off reports of damage caused in some American fracking locations, adding “Wev won’t want you to bring the same chaos here”.

Mr Pickering argued that “the world is turning - it is not chaos”, and tried to put some of the American experience in context.

But to the audience, Councillor Hogg’s splenetic indictment seemed like the devastating summing-up of a prosecution lawyer.

Many Cumbernauld people, regardless of government decisions, are gearing up to fight fracking all the way.