A new application to drill a borehole for Coal Bed Methane and Shale gas exploration in the Port Talbot area poses new questions about the role of the Welsh Government in the development of unconventional gas in the Welsh coalfields. The application, lodged by UK Methane Ltd. is on land that is directly owned by the Welsh Government itself, and while novel , shouldn’t be hugely surprising.
In the midst of the barrage of claims, counterclaims and spin flying around the whole issues of “Unconventional Gas”, the Welsh Government has been largely silent on the issue, but as with most things in Cardiff Bay, things are quietly developing behind the scenes. So let’s start at the top.
The recommendations of this document were approved by the Cabinet but strangely for an administration usually eager to crow it’s achievements from the rooftops, it was agreed not to publicise this determination in the press.
One very interesting piece of information is the onus placed on the new Regulator, Natural Resources Wales, to ensure that all the appropriate environmental safeguards are in place. Yet questions are already being raised from a number of quarters about potential conflicts on interest with a body which is supposed to on the one hand pursue a conservation agenda, while also issue permits for new energy projects.
Which brings us neatly back to Port Talbot.
For in the case of the Port Talbot application, it’s quite clear that the body responsible for giving out the environmental permits is also the body that manages the land on behalf of the landowner, the Welsh Assembly Government. It appears at this point that this body has consented to allow an activity with unquantified environmental consequences to take place on land under it’s care.
So what reason do we have to assume it’s not going to continue in this vein and give out the permits too?