Soil samples from a field next to the Barton Moss hydrocarbon site in Salford had dangerous levels of contamination, a court heard today. But more testing is needed to establish where the contamination came from.
Environmental scientist, Dr Aidan Foley, gave evidence at Manchester Magistrates Court this morning that the samples had higher than permitted levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, found in fossil fuels and tar deposits.
But Dr Foley, of EGG Consultants, said he needed to take more samples to allow further analysis before he could confirm whether or not the contamination came from activities on the site. Other possible sources could be deposits from the M62 motorway next to the site, a nearby aerodrome or previous dumping.
He also said he had identified what he thought could be water-based drilling mud outside the site.
Dr Foley had been called by the defence in the case of 43 people arrested following protests against IGas drilling at Barton Moss in spring 2014. They were charged with a range of offences, including trespass and obstruction. They have pleaded not guilty and argued that their actions were justified because IGas was acting unlawfully.
Dr Foley has written two reports for the case. District judge James Prowse put it to him: “You found PAH in dangerous concentrations in circumstances that led you to think that it came from the site”. Dr Foley agreed.
He said the potential source of PAH from activities on the site could be fuel or lubricating oil used by heavy plant or machinery. He said it was unlikely to be from material removed during drilling. “If it was then you would see further evidence,” he said.
Dr Foley said any drilling mud should have been dealt with by the site operator in a controlled way and should not have been on the field. If it were drilling mud, this would be a breach of the environmental permit, he said.
Drilling sites usually have an impermeable liner or membrane to catch any spills. Alex Langhorn, prosecuting, said the Barton Moss drilling site was covered in crushed limestone and, in places, concrete. He put it to Dr Foley that any contamination would be more likely to happen on soil that was not covered. Dr Foley said: “The impermeable liner was not there during all of the site preparation”.
The court heard that Dr Foley wanted to take extra samples to test for a wider range of PAHs to confirm the source.
Dr Foley said: “We do not have sufficient information at present to determine the proper source of contamination from the potential sources that have been identified. That information can be obtained if analysis of additional samples can be obtained.”
Richard Brigden, defending a group of the people charged, asked whether more analysis would allow the source of contamination to be identified more precisely.
Dr Foley said: “You may be able to draw the conclusion that it is a recent petroleum spillage or recent deposits that would then eliminate motorway deposits and historical disposals of ashes.” He also said the contamination could have multiple sources.
He added that he wanted to confirm whether the mud was in fact water-based drilling mud. A scientist from the Environment Agency, Sarah Scott, has said the mud has another source, the court heard.
Dr Foley said he could not collect the additional samples from either the drilling compound or from the original location on land around the site because the owner of both, Peel Holdings, would not give permission.
“I have been restricted from access to any land owned by Peel Holdings”, he said.
Mr Brigden added: “We have asked for access and we have been refused.” He asked the court to give Peel Holdings 28 days to allow access to both the site and the surrounding field for further sampling. If access were refused it should be regarded as an abuse of legal process, Mr Brigden said. This would deny the defendants a fair trial.
DJ Prowse is expected to make a ruling today and the case is likely to return to court in June.
After the hearing, Simon Pook, of Richard Lizar solicitors, said: “We will continue to defend the lawful right to peaceful protest under the European Convention on Human Rights.”