The outcome of the UK’s first public inquiry into unconventional gas could help determine whether we will enjoy a frack-free future for Scotland in 2014 and beyond.
A preliminary meeting held on 4th December, established plans for the public inquiry into Dart Energy’s application for coalbed methane at Airth.
Walter Attwood, local resident and Friends of the Earth Stirling co-ordinator, said, “If the planning application to begin the extraction of coal bed methane near Airth is approved it will only be the beginning of a process which will quickly move up through Stirlingshire towards the city itself and over into Clackmannanshire, with potentially 10-15 wells a year being drilled.
“In the process of the expansion of the gas field through Stirlingshire a number of villages such as Plean, Cowie, Fallin and Throsk - as well as smaller communities such as Dunsmore and South Alloa - will be surrounded by the gas wells.
“When the gas field reaches Bannockburn and Stirling, it will stretch along the outskirts of the city - from the Motorway service station at the Junction of the M9/M80 to Logie Kirk, near Stirling University.
“The environmental justice issues that unconventional gas development raises are considerable. The land allocated by the council for housing, in the communities mentioned, is unlikely to be taken up by developers for private housing and therefore could end up only being used for social housing. This could well mean vulnerable people, with little chance of objecting, being housed close to gas wells with the strong potential of sending dangerous pollutants into the atmosphere and negatively affecting their health.
“For pregnant women, this could well mean an adverse impact on the child they are bearing. Research from the USA shows that low birth weights rise significantly where the mother lives within 1.5 miles of a well site.” 
Another recent report highlights the adverse effects of some chemicals on hormones.
Both Falkirk and Stirling Councils stood firm in their opposition to the development and, six months on from Dart’s original appeal, a date has been set to examine the plans for the first commercial unconventional gas site in the UK. The Inquiry will start on 18th March 2014 and will run for 3 weeks.
The Reporter has agreed the issues Friends of the Earth Scotland and the community believe are most important â€“ including climate change, public health and cultural impacts â€“ will be heard by a full Inquiry session.
A number of areas in Scotland are already under license for onshore unconventional gas development, but on Tuesday 17th December the UK Government published a map of areas, including vast swathes of Scotland, that could be licensed for future shale gas and coalbed methane extraction. 
The maps have been published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change as part of a strategic environmental assessment into its plans to offer licenses for onshore oil and gas extraction. The Government announcement also contained details of a voluntary industry initiative to offer communities up to Â£100,000 where shale gas drilling takes place.
Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said, "Communities across Scotland will be alarmed to discover that despite growing evidence about the harmful impacts of unconventional gas drilling and fracking, the UK Government is determined to go ahead with plans to squeeze as much as they can out of some of the most populated parts of the country.
"If the industry think that offering money to communities with fracking in their back yards will put an end to growing resistance to this new source of fossil fuel, they are onto a loser. Communities facing these kind of developments here in Scotland and across the UK are already well connected to people around the world suffering from the immediate local environmental and health impacts of the industry, and they won't be bought off so easily."
Donations to our legal fund appeal for the public inquiry can be made here: http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/node/1707
1. Low birth weight linked to sites of fracking: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ehbasel13/s-3-30-02/ and infertility risks: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/fracking-infertility-cancer-birth-defects-530620
2. Two online articles looking at hormone-disrupting chemicals from fracking activity: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/fracking-linked-to-release-of-... and http://www.timeslive.co.za/thetimes/2013/12/18/fracking-chemicals-affect...
3. http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/node/1724 - our press release on communities at risk of fracking and unconventional gas extraction across Scotland.
4. Australian company Dart Energy is the leading unconventional gas developer in Scotland. Dart’s flagship development at Airth, near Falkirk faces strong community opposition and has been beset by delays. In June 2013 Dart appealed their application for 22 new wells, a gas and water treatment facility and a network of pipelines to the Scottish Government on grounds of non-determination. A Public Inquiry process has started and will examine the application in March 2014. Dart also plan to drill for coalbed methane at Canonbie, where the company has planning permission for wells at 19 sites; it also has a further two licenses to explore large areas in Fife. Another company "Reach Coal Seam Gas" is hoping to develop coalbed methane in North Lanarkshire, where it has a license to explore a large area. However, the company recently withdrew a planning application for a development at Moodiesburn, following significant public opposition.
5. Bans and moratoria around the world
France: A nationwide ban on fracking
Switzerland: A moratorium on fracking was introduced in the canton of Fribourg
Germany: Moratorium in Northrhine-Westphalia on fracking. Lower Saxony likely to do the same.
Bulgaria: Government banned fracking
Czech Republic: A moratorium on fracking, considering outright ban
Spain: Cantabria banned fracking, La Rioja is also currently considering same
Netherlands: Moratorium on unconventional fossil fuels
Denmark: Moratorium on fracking
Quebec: A moratorium on fracking
United States: Vermont banned fracking, and New York has moratorium
New South Wales: ban on any coal bed methane activity within 2km of residential areas, and within critical industry clusters such as winegrowing areas
Ireland: 2-year moratorium on fracking
6. Friends of the Earth Scotland is: * Scotland's leading environmental campaigning organisation * An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland * Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 77 national member groups, and some 5,000 local activist groups. www.foe-scotland.org.uk