The British Geological Survey has apologised after stating in a press release that Ince Marshes in Cheshire had been chosen as the site of a geological research centre after a consultation with local residents.
The BGS announced in September that the research centre, called UKGEOS, would drill 80 observation boreholes across the marshes to study how fluids and gases flow underground, including during fracking.
The press release said:
“Following an extensive study of the local geology and consultation with local residents and landowners, the BGS can confirm Ince Marshes as its preferred location.”
The statement about a public consultation was repeated in an information board at an information event in Helsby last month.
Dave Plunkett, from Chester, attended that event and queried the consultation claim. He contacted the event organiser and asked:
“Can you please tell me when the 2016 consultation with local residents took place, in what format, what questions, how many replies etc etc, and also can you direct me to a published copy of the report or summary of that consultation.”
He received the following reply
“I can confirm that the BGS has been characterising the local geology since 2016 and we have undertaken initial consultation with local landowners to understand the possibility of siting boreholes in the locality. BGS has also approached some local businesses, land users and the local authority about our proposal. This process started in 2016 and moved forward in earnest after the £31m funding was approved in April 2017.
“As we are still in the design stages of the facility, our local community engagement process is at the beginning.”
The BGS said it was organising a series of public meetings, after which it would submit a planning application. The organisation said:
“A ‘statement of community involvement’ will form part of the planning application and is the formal report of community engagement activity. It will include analysis of the feedback that we receive as a result. This statement will be a publicly-available document that will include all the information you are looking for below.”
The BGS added:
“I apologise that the wording in the press release suggests that this process had already begun. We have corrected the wording online and on the poster to prevent confusion.”
Mr Plunkett responded:
“I am really surprised that BGS have made such as simple mistake on this, even before you start the planning process. If this is how you expects to operate, why do you expect people to trust your expertise and views on this technology?”
“Firstly, I suggest you also re-issue that press release, with an apology. Secondly I suggest you realise that openness and honesty are critical here, and this is not a good start.”
The BGS has not included an explanation with the revised version. Mr Plunkett said:
“I would have expected honesty and openness when caught out saying things that are not true.”
IGas fracking and testing plans
Shale gas exploration and fracking is currently a sensitive issue in the area.
In surveys carried out in nearby Frodsham and Helsby a year ago more than 75% of participants said fracking was a bad thing, compared with 9% who said it was a good thing.
Last month, IGas announced that it wanted to drill and frack a new well on the edge of the Ince Marshes. It submitted a scoping request – the first stage in the planning application process – to Cheshire West and Chester Council for the site off Grinsome Road in Elston. If approved, this would be IGas’s first planning consent for fracking.
The Grinsome Road site is about 5km east of Ellesmere Port, where the company is also seeking consent to test (though not frack) another well. Earlier this month, that application had attracted about 700 objections and one comment in support. On 16 November, IGas announced that it had received a mining waste permit for the flow tests at that site at land off Portside North.