Thursday, 26 September 2013

Fracking firm targets Wrecsam for Coal Bed Methane

A fracking operation could be set up on Wrecsam's doorstep if a mining multinational succeeds in getting planning permission for a test operation.

 GP Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Australian-owned mining giant Dart Energy (Europe), is based in Stirling, Scotland. They want to drill a test hole in land 400m west of Commonwood Farm, off the Holt Road behind Wrecsam Golf Club. It's two miles from the town centre and a couple of miles from the Dee River at Holt.

 It wants to bore to test for mineral exploration in the north-east Wales coalfield. In its submission it explains that the aim is to explore whether exploitation of coal bed methane (CBM) is commercially possible.

Dart Energy (Europe) has interests in Poland, UK, Germany and Belgium. It owns the licence to exploit PEDL187, a 80 sq mile block of land that covers Wrecsam.

The planning application confirms no local consultation has taken place.

Coal Bed Methane extraction has many consequences - here are some of the impacts:
  • Produced Water
    To get methane out of coal seams the groundwater trapping the methane must be continually pumped out. The water contains a cocktail of chemicals including carcinogenic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. In Australia 10% of coal bed methane wells are hydraulically fractured to increase the flow of water and gas.
  • Water Disposal
    Millions of litres of produced water has to be disposed of from each well. Over time this represents a huge volume of water and toxic material released into rivers, estuaries and the sea. In most cases the industry claims that the water does not require treatment or detailed monitoring. Picture shows a “designated outfall” taking untreated water from a CBM site at Airth, Scotland into the Firth of Forth.
  • Lowering of Water Table
    Continuous removal of water from coal seams depletes ground water and may eventually lower farmers boreholes and surface water flows (streams and rivers). It can also change the flow of groundwater drawing fresh water into the coal seams. Lowering the water table has allowed methane and other gases to be released indiscriminately in Australia.
  • Air Pollution & Flaring
    Methane, hydrogen sulphide, nitrogen oxides (Nox) and other aromatic hydrocarbons are emitted from sites. Noise pollution and further emissions of methane and airborne pollutants occur as the gas is processed and pressurised in sprawling temporary infrastructure. Flare stacks burn off unwanted gasses and cause noise and light pollution and more toxic emissions.
  • Methane Migration into Aquifers
    The Coal Bed Methane (CBM) process along with hydraulic fracturing is designed to extract methane from coal seams. The gas wells themselves are the most common pathway for methane migration (leakage). This can lead to high levels of methane in streams, aquifers and eventually drinking water. Methane is 100x worse (on a 20 year time frame) than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Picture shows the Condamine river in Queensland bubbling with gas.
  • Leaking Wells
    6% of gas wells leak immediately and 50% of all gas wells leak within 15 years. CBM exploration requires many thousands of wells to be drilled. These wells can never be removed or recycled, the steel and concrete structures plunged deep into the geology will decay slowly over time. All gas wells will leak eventually.
  • Sites & Enclosure
    Many wells require many sites which in turn require access roads, foundations, floodlights and enclosures. This pattern of development divides countryside, threatens rights of way and damages and slowly destroys the natural beauty and diversity of an area. Picture shows site at Airth near Falkirk, Scotland.
  • Pipelines
    Pipelines will inevitably be used by the industry to transport gas. They create the additional danger of leaks and explosions. Pipelines may also be used to transport waste water to processing plants and there is already evidence of these leaking. Pipeline construction cuts scars across the countryside and blights surrounding areas with planning restrictions.
  • Compressor Stations & Flaring
    A sprawling temporary gas infrastructure is needed to connect thousands of sites across the landscape. Flare stacks burn off unwanted gasses on every site and cause noise/light pollution and toxic emissions. Noise pollution and further emissions of methane and airborne pollutants occur as the gas is processed and pressurised.
  • Industrialise Countryside
    The result of this type of industrial development on the countryside is catastrophic. Wildlife corridors are disrupted. Edge effects created by the cutting up of habitats into smaller and smaller pieces threaten biodiversity and the release and distribution of toxic compounds adds to the cumulative impact.
  • Corporate Profits vs Community Costs
    If this industry is allowed to get a foot in the door in the UK the number of communities under threat will increases massively. The impacts and dangers are acute and borne by local communities who find themselves living in a gasfield. The rewards go to an elite of shareholders, directors and investors. Stopping this industry in the UK will send a clear message to other countries that the impacts and dangers are unaceptable.
  • Subsidence & Underground Coal Fires
    As the water table is dropped by continuous pumping of water the geology can experience subsidence. This subsidence can damage homes, roads and other infrastructure including the wells and sites themselves. Once coal seams are dewatered it is possible for the coal to burn underground. All that is required is a point of ignition and an air source.
  • More Coal Extraction
    Coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels and 70% of UK coal is considered un-mineable. Companies are already speculating that once coal seams are de-watered and degassed the coal can be extracted using other techniques. Open cast mining or burning the coal in situ (Underground Coal Gasification) will increase our use of coal and have devastating impacts for our land and climate.
  • Damage to Existing Industries
    Farming and food production, recreation and tourism suffer at all stages of coal bed methane exploration, production and legacy. An areas reputation and landbase are exposed to long term dangers that exist long after the industry has gone.
  • Boom & Bust
    Many areas of the country bear the scars of previous industrial development. Extractive industries destroy long term sustainable jobs and create unsustainable booms and busts. Any short term gains are far outweighed by the long term losses and resulting regional instability.
  • Heavy Vehicle Traffic
    Just removing drilling mud and waste from wells will require many tanker/truck movements for each site . This is in addition to construction vehicles and drilling and fracking equipment when the site is commissioned. Because the lifetime of each CBM well is short (2-5 years) this armada of heavy vehicles will roll across the countryside.
  • Road Damage, Subsidence & Earthquakes
    Road damage is an inevitable consequence of CBM exploration due to intensive transportation of materials and machinery. Subsidence and earthquakes may be caused by the process and are quite common in conventional coal mining.
  • Property Blight
    Home owners in CBM extraction areas can find themselves trapped in a house they can not sell, re-mortgage, insure or develop. An area already suffering from a decline in existing industries is further impacted by industrialisation (sites & pipelines), air and water pollution and the resultant health impacts.
  • Direct Threat to Renewable Energy Investment
    Further investment in fossil fuel extraction and a new wave of extreme energy undermines investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. It perpetuates our dependence on finite resources and sabotages the life chances of future generations.
  • Climate Change
    CBM will not replace other fossil fuels, it will be burned in addition to the oil, coal and gas that has already been discovered. By developing these new energy extraction techniques we are expanding global reserves of hydrocarbons and increasing emissions. The chemistry of the atmosphere is changing and due to drought, flood and starvation the death toll already stands at 450,000 annually.

Fracking is banned in several European countries because of the dangers.

Still not sure about fracking? Here's a report by the US Environmental Protection Agency into drinking contamination caused by fracking in Wyoming:
 EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the Agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels. Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time. 
Local anti-fracking activists will be gearing up to oppose this dirty and dangerous process. They are linking up with fellow activists in the southern Welsh coalfield, Scotland and England. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Plaid backs firefighters' strike

Plaid Cymru activists and local trade unionists turned out in solidarity with Fire Brigades Union members in Wrecsam who took strike action this afternoon. It's part of action against plans by the UK and Welsh Government to force firefighters to work until they're 60 years old.

Public support for the strikers is huge, judging by the cars tooting as they passed the picket.

Workers' anger over Equal Pay settlement delays

A councillor has hit out at Wrecsam Council for significant delays in getting final settlement payments resolved for current and former council employees' equal pay claims. Many of the female workers have waited eight years to have their equal pay cases resolved, with Wrexham Council being one of the last in Wales to pay out (16th out of 22). 

The council had agreed to pay out to hundreds of low-paid workers back September 2012 but the payments have still not been processed, despite workers agreeing written offers via their solicitors 4 months ago. Workers are being told by their solicitors that they are still waiting for the relevant COT3 forms to arrive from the council.

Cllr Arfon Jones, who has received complaints from several former council employees, said: 
"Under an agreement with the unions in 1997, councils agreed to settle all claims, estimated at totalling more than £75m, by 2007. Most Welsh councils have already resolved claims but Wrexham is one of the last to do so. Many of the ladies getting in touch with me are angry at the continued delays even at this final stage and simply can't understand why the council can't sort it out. 
 "I contacted the council's Chief Finance Officer back in July on their behalf, to ask what the problem was but was assured the council was doing all it could settle payments. I am baffled as to why, over two months later, we are still no further along and the ladies are still being told the relevant forms from the council haven't arrived. These workers have waited a long enough as it is to receive money they are rightly owed."
 A former council employee, who did not wish to be named, said:

"There really is no excuse to continue to leave us in limbo like this for the sake of sending out the relevant forms to our solicitors. We've had offers in writing which we have accepted, we're baffled as to what is causing the ongoing delay".
 A lawyer for the union's solicitors, Thompsons, told Plaid Cymru such cases were dealt with through ACAS and councils would normally draw up the settlement. The delay is because neither Wrecsam Council nor ACAS will complete the work.

This delay allows Wrecsam Council to keep millions of pounds of reserves in the bank, while hundreds of women workers struggle to make ends meet.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Letter to the Daily Post - Firefighters Strike.

Dear Editor,

Your article on the Firefighters Strike (Post, Sept 24th), seems to imply the inevitability of a strike due to the Westminster Government's imposition of Pension changes. There is no inevitability here, the Local Government Minister Lesley Griffiths has the power to avoid strike action as Firefighters Pensions are totally devolved to the Welsh Government. Lesley Griffiths and the Labour Welsh Government had two choices, follow Scotland and avoid strike action or follow the Tories in Westminster and implement this unfair pension changes on the Firefighters and force a strike. We now know the choice she took.

Despite the empty rhetoric of the Welsh Government this goes to show they are quite happy to follow hated Tory policies when it suits them.


Councillor Arfon Jones.


Much has been written about the Firefighters strike and their campaign to retain their pensionable retirement age at 55 rather than 60. The best arguments in favour of retention of the 55 years retirement age is from the Firefighters Voice blog and is well worth a read as its from a grass roots level a position that neither the Westminster or Welsh Government make no effort to understand.

Please read and share.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Join the campaign against GP surgeries charging patients for phone calls

This appeared in today's Daily Post:
TWO GP surgeries have been slammed for using premium rate numbers for patients to make appointments.
Plaid Cymru said  two practices in Wrexham – Borras Park Surgery in Borras Road and the Gardden Road surgery in Rhosllannerchrugog, Wrexham – were among 29 Welsh surgeries using 0844 numbers that could leave patients with hefty bills.
 But practice chiefs at Gardden Road defended using the number and insisted it provided a better service for patients trying to contact the surgery.
Research by Plaid Cymru found some patients were being charged 5.1p per minute plus a 15p connection charge from a BT landline. This could increase to 44p a minute from a mobile phone.
  Plaid Cymru’s regional AM Llyr Gruffydd said: 
“A constituent registered with the Gardden Road surgery raised this matter with us after being kept waiting when he called to make an appointment.
“He was 17th in the queue and it became clear people would face a hefty bill if they had to wait so long to get through. As someone who had used the surgery all his life, he found that unacceptable and contacted my office.
 “We’ve carried out this research and believe charging premium rates to access doctors goes against the NHS regulations that make it clear surgeries should charge no more than the local rate.”
Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Health Minister Elin Jones said: 
“Such charges are in contrast to the policy of previous Welsh Governments in relation to charging. This has led to the phasing out of car parking charges in hospitals and, of course, the free prescription policy.
“Plaid Cymru believes that such charges go against the spirit of the NHS. Regulations state that patients should not pay more to make calls to a GP practice than other calls in the area.”
Ms Jones said she had written to the health minister to clarify the situation.
 A Gardden Road GP spokeswoman said: 
“The practice introduced the system to improve patient access and experience, as patients trying to book an appointment using the previous system often faced the engaged tone.
 “We believe that introducing the enhanced system has improved patient access, and enabled our staff to focus on what matters most, assisting patients.
 “The surgery has installed an alternative local rate number to provide further choice for our patients.”
 She added: “The Department of Health, Social Services and Children response dated 16th August 2012 states: ‘The NHS (Primary Medical Services) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Wales) Regulations do not preclude a contractor from entering into a contract for telephone services using non geographical number ranges such as 084, if it is satisfied that having regard to the arrangements as a whole persons will not pay more to make equivalent calls to a geographical number. As such, if GPs are satisfied of their compliance, they can continue to use an 084 number.”
What you can do - sign this online petition to stop the two practices from charging patients to call their surgeries. Patients can sign anonymously if they want:

Monday, 2 September 2013

Developers get green light from Wrecsam planning committee

Developers will be dancing with delight after Wrecsam's planning committee agreed by the narrowest of margins to allow more housing on a green space to fund the Brymbo spine road.

 The development was rejected three years by the same planning committee (albeit with a different membership) and that decision was backed on appeal by the Planning Inspectors. Despite this, Brymbo Developments Ltd, which was given the old Brymbo steelworks site more than 16 years ago for redevelopment, came back with the same old plea: "We can't afford to build the spine road".

 The spine road would link the villages of Tanyfron and Brymbo via their new 650-house housing estate. It was essential for the rejuvenation of the area, which BDL said would involve building 300 homes, shops and creating 1,000 jobs through light industrial units.

 Remarkably, BDL neglected to provide the funding for such a fundamental part of their masterplan, even though their directors siphoned off millions in dividends over the years.

 Planning officers pushed hard tonight for this enabling development, despite acknowledging it was contrary to policy. They also had to accept arguments from Sam Evans for Tanyfron Residents that the Planning Inspectors had said the previous application was an inappropriate urban encroachment.

 It was, they kept reiterating, the only way to ensure the spine road was built. Councillors were sceptical that the company would deliver given past promises and an amendment saying that the entire road should be built before any housing commenced was almost passed. It fell by just one vote, 9-8. The fact that one sceptical councillor had been persuaded to declare an interest and leave the meeting merits further investigation.

Councillors who remained eventually voted for the housing (BDL says it'll just be 70 homes when in the last application it was for 150 on the same plot of land) on the basis that the company will have to take out a bond. If the road is not completed within 12 months then the bond will be invoked and the work finished for them.

BDL-watchers are rather less trusting of this company, especially given its associated companies' recent history of going bust.

The link between these companies is Midlands millionaire Colin Cornes, who is still listed as a director of BDL. He's on the Sunday Times Rich List and reputed to have a personal fortune of £90 million.

Building extra housing and a new supermarket on the site was a necessity to pay for the spine road, suggesting a company in difficulties. This is surprising given the money it has already made on selling land for 650 homes on the site.

Given their suspicions, planning committee members could have asked whether the bond would be worth anything if BDL went bust.

Councillors were cajoled and eventually threatened that they could lose a costly appeal (precisely the same threat that was levelled three years ago!) and voted yes. It remains to be seen whether the spine road is now built within 12 months as promised by the council's solicitor.

It also remains to be seen whether approving such a development against fundamental principles will open the floodgates to other developers. Not only does the development allow BDL off the hook in terms of providing any affordable housing or funding a new school (which is needed given all the extra housing built on site), but it sets a dangerous precedent that will have long-lasting consequences.