Communities and environmental groups converged on the Scottish National Party (SNP) conference on Saturday, October 19, to call on the Scottish Government to be the first in the UK to ban unconventional gas. Demonstrators voiced their concerns about plans to drill for coalbed methane, explore for shale gas and experiment with underground coal gasification in Scotland, highlighting areas of the country under threat from gas companies. October 19 was the second ever Global Frackdown Day, and protests took place in 28 countries around the world.

At the event, the Scottish Government announced a significant strengthening of Scottish planning law, which will require buffer zones between unconventional gas developments and communities.

The rally heard from Scotland’s leading environmental organisations and community groups and was attended by conference goers and demonstrators.

Speakers included: Mary Church, Head of Campaigns for Friends of the Earth, Scotland; Maria Montinaro, Spokesperson for Concerned Communities of Falkirk; Miriam Dobson, People and Planet; and Maire McCormack from Women’s Environmental Network.

A fringe meeting, held by Concerned Communities of Falkirk, also took place at the Salutation Hotel after the rally and speeches – this addressed concerns on unconventional gas extraction in Scotland.

Maria Montinaro, Spokesperson for Concerned Communities of Falkirk, said,
“Following much research and investigation, Concerned Communities of Falkirk have come to the conclusion that the risks of Unconventional Gas significantly outweigh the benefits. This is non-sustainable development which will primarily benefit private organisations at the expense of our communities, our environment and our existing industries. The Community Charter, a first for Scotland and the UK, sets out our rights and responsibilities to participate in planning processes that could affect our assets, and to have our views made a material consideration in all related decisions.

“Falkirk and the other informed communities who are opposing Unconventional Gas Developments are not NIMBYs. We are saying – Not In Anyone’s Back Yard.  Unconventional Gas must not be given the green light in Scotland. We ask our Scottish Government to take the lead on behalf of its people, to ban this industry, protecting and safeguarding its citizens.”

Concerned residents of Canonbie were also present at the Global Frackdown Day rally. A spokesperson for Canonbie Residents Against Coal Developments, CRACD, said,
“Local People in Canonbie are only now beginning to realise the true extent of Buccleuch Estates Coal Development Plans for this area.

“Despite a recent Household Survey undertaken by CRACD, involving more than 360 local residents, which confirmed that more than 90% rejected the coal proposals, Buccleuch seem determined to proceed, and to ignore the community.

“At least until such times as Scottish Planning and other regulatory frameworks can be overhauled to ensure that public safety and environmental risks are addressed, the people of Canonbie call on the Scottish Government to protect their community, and impose an immediate moratorium on all drilling.”

Mary Church, Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Campaigns, said,
“The SNP already know that unconventional gas is unnecessary here in Scotland, and it is clear from countries where the industry is more developed that it is unsafe. We attended the SNP conference on Global Frackdown Day, along with communities facing these developments on their doorsteps, to show the Government that it is also unwanted.

“While today’s announcement isn’t the ban we want, it is a firm step in the right direction and a huge problem for Dart Energy’s current plans for drilling for gas in Scotland.  Dart should just give up now.

“We welcome the Government’s recognition that buffer zones are necessary to protect communities from the worst impacts of gas drilling and fracking, and urge them to go further and join France, Ireland, the Netherlands and others in putting a stop to all fracking and unconventional gas activity.  If Scotland is to play its part in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, we need to leave this fossil fuel in the ground.”

A public inquiry is due to consider an application for commercial coalbed methane extraction at Airth, near Falkirk, next year, following over 2,500 objections. The project, by Australian company Dart Energy, is the most advanced unconventional gas project in the UK. If it goes ahead, it could open the door on thousands of gas wells across the central belt of Scotland.

Earlier this week it was announced that the British Geological Survey is going to map Scotland’s shale gas potential while plans to experiment with unproven underground coal gasification techniques in the firth of Forth and in Dumfries and Galloway are also developing.

Friends of the Earth Scotland are calling for a ban on all unconventional gas extraction because of the climate and local environmental and health risks associated with the industry.

Image: PERTH, UK – 19th October 2013: Environmental protestors erect a giant drilling rig outside the SNP Party Conference at Perth Concert Hall to call for a ban on unconventional gas extraction. The demonstrators and members of the community in Scotland joined as part of Global Frackdown Day to show their opposition and voice their concerns to MSP’s. Pictured MSP Paul Wheelhouse stands with demonstrators. (MAVERICK PHOTO AGENCY)