A BOLTON geophysicist has warned it is “only a matter of time” before fracking licences are submitted to Bolton council — and is urging the town’s leaders to get up to speed on the controversial issue now.
Ainslie Casson, a Westhoughton scientist now working for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has written to all 60 Bolton councillors claiming there are risks of small earthquakes and the use of cancer-causing chemicals in the process.
With almost 30 years’ experience working in the oil and gas industry, Mr Casson said Bolton — with its rich history of mining — is a likely target for energy companies looking to cash in on untapped gas supplies.
Hydraulic fracking is the controversial technique of drilling into the earth and directing a high-pressure water mixture into the rock to release the gas inside.
But the process can cause small earth tremors and Mr Casson said ground water could be contaminated by the chemicals used to release the gas.
In his letters to councillors, Mr Casson highlights the “possible and likely” contamination of water by chemicals such as benzene, xylene and toluene.
In recent months environmental activists, including members of Bolton Green Party, have swarmed Barton Moss in Salford to protest against the exploratory drilling being carried out by iGas.
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Mr Casson, previously of Church Walks, said he is concerned that council chiefs do not fully understand the implications and dangers of the process — or know about the alternative methods available to companies.
He said: “Pretty much the whole of the Lancashire basin has coal deposits with associated shale.
“The areas of interest would be those where that strata comes closer to the surface, so reducing drilling costs.
“If there is an area of interest then drilling can be selected away from urban areas and drilling can be done with horizontal drilling techniques.
“Directional drilling is a common technique, but it adds costs, as does seismic surveying. Therein lies the problem.
“But Bolton Council do not have the knowledge base to put these conditions in place, and they are not likely to listen to the likes of me ‘officially’.”
Bolton Council has previously said it would judge each fracking application on its individual merits.
He added: “What happened in the US is a different situation than that which would occur in the UK.
“The geology is different, ownership is different and the environmental legislation in place (including EU directives) would stop the excesses seen in the US.
“George W. Bush specifically excluded gas drilling companies from Environment Protection Agency legislation in the US — that is why the US had so many issues with fracking.”
He added: “I would urge very strongly that the Bolton Council environmental department get up to speed on fracking quickly because there is a lot of misinformation out there driven by fear and lack of knowledge.”