Ineos has withdrawn the long-running planning application for coalbed methane extraction at Airth in Falkirk.
Opponents of the scheme for 22 new wells and 14 new sites described the decision as “fantastic news”.
Recent correspondence had suggested that Ineos intended to push ahead with the application, despite the Scottish government’s position of “no support” for unconventional oil and gas.
A public inquiry on the application, dating back to 2014, looked as if it might have to be reopened before a final decision could be made.
But the Ferret investigative website reported today that at 5pm yesterday (Friday 13 March 2020), Ineos’s law firm, DLA Piper, told the Scotland’s Department of Planning and Environmental Appeals that it was pulling out.
“Ineos has decided to withdraw”
The letter, which can be viewed on the Ferret’s website, said:
“INEOS has decided to withdraw its appeals.”
The letter said that advice from the chief planner suggested that Scottish ministers, who would decide the applications, would “inevitably reject the appeals” on the grounds of public concern.
The company had argued that the Scottish government’s “no support” policy should not be taken into account by the Reporters – the equivalent of English planning inspectors in their recommendation to ministers.
The letter said:
“Had this point been accepted, INEOS might have been prepared to reinstate the appeals.”
But it said the Reporters had made it clear that the “no support” policy was a relevant material consideration for them to consider.
“That decision effectively drew a line under matters, so far as INEOS is concerned.”
The letter said the original appeal had cost several hundred thousand pounds. The reinstatement of the case after a break since the 2014 inquiry would “incur significant further costs” with no “reasonable prospect of a return on the investment in the form of the grant of planning permission.”
Consultants and lawyers who worked on the original case had or were about to retire, the letter added. Pursuing the appeals now would mean Ineos “would have to effectively start again from scratch”.
The law firm also said there was “an apparent disconnect” between a report by the Scottish government on the likely environmental impact of onshore unconventional oil and gas development and “the actual scientific evidence” given by experts.
Reporters and ministers would “inevitably attach significant weight” to the report’s conclusions, the law firm said in its letter.
Local people have been fighting the plans at Airth since 2012.
As well as new wells, there were proposals for 20km of pipeline and a gas processing facility. The 2014 public inquiry heard from more than 50 witnesses.
The decision was stalled by the Scottish government’s moratorium on unconventional gas, first made in 2015 and upheld indefinitely in 2019.
Friends of the Earth Scotland tweeted today:
“Fantastic news! INEOS has admitted defeat and is walking away from its dirty gas development plan at Airth. It’s a victory for people across Scotland who campaigned against fracking – esp. the local community who’ve opposed this project since 2012.”
The organisation’s head of campaigns, Mary Church, said:
“It is great news that INEOS has finally admitted defeat and are walking away from this dirty development. This is a real victory for the people across Scotland who campaigned for the moratorium against fracking, and particularly for the community at Airth who have been fighting this coalbed methane project since 2012. It’s a scandal that this climate wrecking project has been hanging over the community for so long given that they have opposed it since day one.
“The climate emergency means there is simply no excuse for any new fossil fuel developments. Following this welcome news, INEOS and the Scottish Government should now turn their focus to developing a credible and just transition plan for the plants at Grangemouth, which are amongst the biggest climate polluters and plastic producers in the UK.”
Opponents of the scheme commented on campaign social media sites:
“That’s ace news. Well done to you all.”
“Not only did we win but we were right.”