By Stephanie Pride

Two weeks into what has been characterised as a David and Goliath-style battle between dirty energy company Dart and its local opponents, experts have clashed over the likely impact of what would be the UK’s first commercial coalbed methane site near Falkirk.

The plush Inchyra Grange Hotel, where a cup of tea sets you back more than £4, is just one of the venues for a public enquiry which is already behind schedule and producing as much heat as light.

Dart’s QC has already tried to discredit the evidence of one of the witnesses for the objectors, Emeritus Prof David Smythe of Glasgow University, by citing his background as a former punk rocker who has criticised the UK government over its nuclear waste dump plans.

More substantive arguments have ranged over whether or not there is a problem with drilling through faults, experts disagreeing over whether they act as seals or pathways for fugitive gas emissions; and concerns over the proposed development causing the ‘de-watering’ of old mineworkings, which could generate methane in the old mines.

In all, more than 1,000 documents have been produced relating to the inquiry, which was convened after Falkirk Council delayed its decision on a planning application which would initially see 22 wells drilled at a four-acre site at Letham Moss, near Airth.

The site is just a small part of a licence block covering 367 square kilometres of central Scotland, which could ultimately yield up to 600 billion cubic feet of methane for conversion to energy for the national grid.

The remaining part of the inquiry, which will go on for at least another week, will cover effects on the community, potential health and environmental impacts and plans for waste management.

Campaigners have been encouraged by the fact that MSPs are now considering the introduction of a 2 kilometre exclusion zone around residential properties for gas extraction, as already seen in Australia.

A final decision on the planning application is expected to take around three months.

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