An academic who called this week for fracking regulations to be relaxed is the director of a leading unconventional gas extraction firm.
Professor Paul Younger of Glasgow University’s Department of Engineering received widespread publicity this week for a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology.
The BBC headlined the story: “Fracking regulations too strict say Glasgow academics”. However Professor Younger holds an unpaid position on the board of Five Quarter, an energy firm based in Newcastle which describes itself as specialising in “the infrastructure and processes needed for the extraction and use of unconventional gas from rocks deep below the North Sea.”
A major shareholder in Five Quarter is Buccleuch Estates, who are currently behind a controversial proposal to extract Coalbed Methane gas in the village of Canonbie, Dumfriesshire on their estate. Mark Oddy, Buccleuch’s Energy Director, is also the Commercial Director of Five Quarter.
Professor Younger’s connection to the industry was revealed by South of Scotland SNP MSP Joan McAlpine who said:
“Academics need to be a lot more transparent if they have paid, or voluntary posts, and journalists should do a bit more research before publicising their research uncritically. There is a great deal of overlap between the unconventionals industry and academia. While I do not dispute Professor’s Younger’s academic credentials, it is important to see the full picture.
“I was also surprised that the academic journal itself has nothing online that reveals Professor Younger’s position on the board of Five Quarter. While the company is pursuing a form of underground coal gasification, rather than fracking, it is still part of the unconventionals industry. The connection with Buccleuch, a major shareholder in Five Quarter, is also significant.”
Ms McAlpine has been supporting her constituents in Canonbie who are campaigning against Buccleuch Estates’ plans to extract methane gas from deep below the picturesque village by the river Esk.
Yesterday she questioned the Scottish environment minister Paul Wheelhouse about the safety of CBM technology, which produces vast amounts of saline waste water. Even without hydraulic fracturing, CBM technology risks contaminating acquifers if boreholes are poorly constructed.
Nineteen sites were approved for drilling at Canonbie after Dumfries and Galloway Council gave planning permission to Greenpark Energy (later Dart Energy and now Igas) to explore and extract gas.
SEPA, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency later found the boreholes to be poorly constructed. However this information was not passed on to the local authority who automatically renewed the planning permission. In 2011 SEPA gave the company a CAR license allowing fracking to take place in Canonbie, but this was later surrendered by the company.
The planning decisions in Canonbie are currently subject of a complaint to the Ombusdman.