Here’s the full text of my letter in today’s (24 Jan) Falkirk Herald on the subject of Coalbed Methane extraction and fracking.  I’ve added links. Do comment.  On this occasion, although it’s obviously a national issue it’s clearly a local one too and the planning application referred to is the first of its type in Scotland.  It would be handy, therefore, but of course not essential, if you could say whether or not you’re a constituent of mine. 

Recently, I’ve had 9 letters from constituents complaining about the proposed Coal Bed Methane (CBM) project at Airth.  At the same time, I’ve had 420 letters objecting to high fuel and energy prices.

CBM extraction entails deploying new technologies to access methane deposits engineers could not reach until now.  This particular project will not employ the ‘fracking‘ method of opening fissures with high pressure water, but both CBM and fracking present the clear possibility of cheaper energy.  In the United States, these technologies are now providing very cheap energy through exploiting enormous shale and methane deposits. We in the UK may not have quite the same scale of natural resource under our soil and water, but CBM and fracking nevertheless represent part of a serious effort to provide all of us with cheaper energy.

So, the possibility of lower energy prices for millions of people feeling physically assaulted by their power company every time a bill comes in; an attractive prospect?  You’re fracking right.

But wait! Regardless of the way new technologies are providing incredibly cheap energy for millions of Americans, what if they represent significant environmental risk?  What if those who oppose these new technologies are right that methane’s going to spew into the atmosphere or the aquifer is going to be violated, or surface water is going to be filled with pus?  Well, here I place a high degree of confidence in the environmental agencies, in this case The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).  SEPA has given the project an unequivocal green light, with very strict operational conditions.

And what of politics?  You know, they’re always around.  Well, the UK Government, which grants the licenses to carry out such work, is behind the development.  The Scottish First minister has been constructive, while the planning experts in Falkirk are likely to advise councillors in favour of the proposal at a meeting on 30th January.  I understand, however, that some local MSPs and Councillors of all shades are up in arms about it all.   They seem likely to take the line of a small number of people less concerned about insane fuel bills against an enormous majority who are totally fed up with them.

The difficulty for politicians, of course, is they want to represent their constituents as well as they can while sometimes it’s very hard to work out exactly what most people do actually want.  As a side-issue, they also like giving their opponents a kicking if that’s at all possible.  So in this case, in respect of the latter, some local councillors want to embarrass the SNP by refusing permission and thereby leaving the decision up to the Scottish government.  While other local Councillors and MSPs want to leave what they perceive to be an unpopular decision to someone else, even if it’s a mate from their own party.

The irony here is that by supporting the CBM application, local politicians can help bring down energy prices while not harming the environment one whit. Airth and the surrounding area is embedded, if you will, in the great coal tradition. Underground explosions shaking the ground were the norm in the past; as, by the way, were terrible diseases which are still killing people today.  Today, the people of our area can again do our own bit to help bring energy prices down and there will literally be no downside in respect of health or the environment.

I suspect that on 30 January, Councillors will delay a decision for a couple of weeks to allow for more ‘consultations’.  And I notice that until now Falkirk Council has kept public comments on the relevant webpage secret.  So let me ask constituents who who demand lower energy prices to do their bit by going along to consultations; by asking Falkirk Council to let ‘public’ comments actually be public; by sending in their views to the Council websiteThe Falkirk Herald website and, if you fancy it, by commenting here too.  If you can, do make it clear that you’re local as these types of comment pages can often be swamped by campaign group members from elsewhere.

Let’s make sure that, on energy, we’re all environmental; but not completely mental.