Dart Energy defends Falkirk development plan

DART Energy, the Australian unconventional gas developer, will invest £100 million in its operations near Falkirk if it gets planning permission for its controversial coal-bed methane project.

The company wants to extract the gas at Airth and ­already has a £300m contract to supply the fuel to SSE.

More than 700 people have objected to the project, which Falkirk and Stirling councils have said they will consider next month at the earliest.

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

Mark Lappin, Europe general manager at Dart Energy, told Scotland on Sunday that its headcount in Scotland would “double in a short space of time” if the project was ­given the green light.

Lappin said the company had already spent £60m by drilling 18 test wells in Scotland and that about half of the £100m to be invested over the next two years would be spent north of the Borders.

He denied reports that the firm would have to mix propane gas with the coal-bed methane produced at Airth in order to meet the grid’s requirements on quality.

“We know our gas content, as does the buyer, though it can fluctuate during production,” Lappin said.

“We have no land available for the propane option and have had no discussions with the landowner. We have no planning application for such an option and we abide by planning approval conditions.”

Lappin reitereated that drilling for coal-bed methane at Airth would use conventional wells and would not involve hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technique better known as “fracking”.

He also said the company had no plans to “frack” for shale gas in Scotland, despite its Scottish licence blocks being listed among its shale gas resources in a statement to the Australian stock exchange last year. Lappin said it was required to disclose all potential shale gas assets, even if it doesn’t have plans to drill.

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Dart Energy last month unveiled a restructuring under which it will pull back from Australia, China, India and ­European markets to focus its efforts on the UK following Chancellor George Osborne’s support for unconventional gas in the Budget.

Under the plans, the company – led by Glasgow-born but Singapore-based chief executive John McGoldrick – will cut its headcount by 70 per cent to about 50.

Mary Church, campaigns co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “We have serious concerns about coal-bed methane extraction. It’s another new fossil fuel we can’t afford to burn if we are going to meet out climate ­obligations.

“There is evidence from Australia and the US – where the unconventional gas industry is more developed – that extracting this kind of gas is incredibly risky, not just for the ­climate but also the local environment and public health. We don’t think unconventional gas should be going ahead in Scotland at all, but it definitely shouldn’t be rolling out ahead of a full life-cycle analysis of all the risks.”

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