Barton Moss fracking company IGas has hit the headlines this week as it stopped further investigation into possible contamination claims, writes Ben Lucas, MA Investigative Journalist at City University, London. At the same time, the company has agreed a £30m deal with INEOS for access to its other shale gas sites.
An environmental expert has been stopped by fracking firm IGas and landowners Peel Holdings from further investigating possible chemical contamination at the company’s Barton Moss drilling plant, the Manchester Magistrates Court heard recently.
However, even though Foley’s report claims that the pollution was unlikely to have come from the drilling process and was probably from the equipment involved, he remains unable to obtain further evidence for his investigation.
Regardless of the pollutant’s origins, it is important that access is granted, as the contamination could spread to the wider local environment, the judge heard on 6 March.
But in an interesting turn of fate, IGas’s ban on entering the site could also result in many anti-fracking activists having cases against them dropped.
Foley was commissioned by Robert Lizar Solicitors to carry out his investigation in a wider effort to help defend some 60 anti-fracking protesters they are representing.
If Foley continues to be blocked from the site, the lawyer representing the protesters charged with aggravated trespass, argues that their cases should be thrown out as they would not be getting a fair trial.
This leaves the fracking company with a dilemma. If they allow the investigation to go ahead, the results could show a breach of their environmental permit and potentially lead to devastating consequences for IGas’s reputation.
On the other hand, if they keep the gates closed and the cases get thrown out of court, protesters may not fear arrest at future anti-fracking demonstrations and may take more radical action to stop fracking, causing an even bigger headache for the shale gas industry.
The court case comes at the same time as news emerged on Tuesday of a £30m deal between IGas and Swiss energy company INEOS, relieving some of its capital concerns.
INEOS has also pledged to provide an additional £138m to help IGas expand its shale gas operations in the Northwest and East Midlands.
The deal, which will give INEOS access to other IGas sites in the UK, has helped shares in IGas increase by 23 percent.
So while INEOS may not play a direct role in taking on any responsibility for investigating Foley’s contamination claims, it will certainly be interested in the dilemma IGas is currently facing.
Photo of IGas Chief, Andrew Austin: Eddie Mulholland via Creative Commons