Dart Energy appeals to Holyrood over gas field

THE company behind plans to drill for gas in the Forth valley is to appeal directly to the Scottish Government after a local council missed a deadline on deciding whether it can go ahead.

Falkirk Council was given a four-month extension to consider the controversial plan, but has failed to reach a verdict.

Dart Energy has invested £60 million in Scotland already and plans to spend a further £100m, half of it north of the Border, if the plan for 18 drills goes ahead. The area of activity, around Airth, is estimated to hold 38 billion cubic feet of gas. Each well would produce one million cubic feet per day, enough to fuel 5,000 homes.

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The Australian firm’s Europe general manager Mark Lappin said the company and its contractors needed certainty and he would be asking for a decision from the government.

He accepted there had been a lot of reaction to the plan – about 700 objections lodged with the council – and that lobby groups against fossil fuels had been among those actively opposed to the scheme. But he said much of the opposition was wrongly focused on so-called fracking, or fracturing of rock, which the company does not undertake. He said a lot of money had been invested already with more to come and that a decision had to be reached before the local authority went into its summer recess.

“We have had no guidance on a decision so we are going to take it to appeal with the government,” he told The Scotsman.

The project spans an area covered by Falkirk and Stirling councils but with the greater part falling within Falkirk’s boundary the lead fell to that council.

The first application expired in the first week of January and the company gave the council a further four months to consider it. Dart is now exercising an option to appeal on the basis of non-determination.

Meetings have taken place between Dart and the council which has called in experts to consider issues that are beyond its expertise.

“We need certainty. We have invested a lot of money, contracts are on hold,” said Lappin. “There is a summer recess for the council so the most sensible thing to do is go to the Scottish Government.”

Dart already has a £300m contract to supply the fuel to SSE-subsidiary Scotia Gas Networks.

The note of appeal will be heard by a reporter in the planning department.

Environmental campaigners have also lodged complaints, though Lappin said the wells are barely two feet high and practically out of sight.

Dart Energy employs 30 staff at its European head office in Stirling following the £31m takeover of Composite Energy in 2011.

Dart is keen to develop its Scottish base as a UK centre of excellence for onshore natural gas.