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Test drilling for methane: The debate

By RachelSWEP  |  Posted: August 12, 2014

Children joined in a protest against plans to test for methane in the Afan Valley

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IT’S an issue that has passionate for and against camps.

And with more plans to test drill for Methane Gas being submitted across the Swansea Bay area, Rachel Moses-Lloyd looked at the arguments.

THERE’S a battle going on across South Wales.

It’s between those who want to use natural energy sources sitting under the Welsh ground, and those who don’t.

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Often mistaken for hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — test drilling applications to check for methane gas on coal beds across the Swansea Bay area keep coming up on council agendas.

Recently, UK Methane, a Bridgend-based company applied to Neath Port Talbot Council for temporary permission to drill an exploratory borehore to test for coal bed methane and shale gases in the Foel Fynddau forest, Pontrhydyfen.

But instantly, the community rallied together to hold a public meeting to raise concerns about the plans.

And now residents are expected to protest at the council meeting when a decision is set to be made.

Keith Ross, of Safe Energy Wales, who spoke at a meeting in Cwmavon to residents, said: “No one is fracking anywhere in Wales.

"The first thing people need to understand is the difference between fracking and test drilling, they are completely different things.

"They are not likely to be fracking in Wales, because that’s what they do for shale gas, and South Wales hasn’t got shale gas."

He said what the public in South Wales was facing though, was the extraction of coal bed methane, and the issues that could potentially cause.

He said there are currently live applications across South Wales, including at Llys Nini, Penllergaer.

He said if companies do find enough methane during their testing, there are two different ways they could go.

"They can apply for a single hole to extract from.

"If they get very good indications from the tests, they will go straight to full production."

But, he said, there is only a certain distance down that can be drilled, and once companies hit that limit, they will then look for another area around two kilometres away.

"That’s fine in somewhere like America, or is mid Wales where there’s a lot of land.

"But there’s no methane in mid Wales, it’s all in the built up areas with the coal mines in South Wales — that’s why people moved there."

But supporters point out that expanding onshore production would create jobs and make Britain less reliant on other countries for its energy.

They say sufficient regulation should make the process much safer than it is in countries where not such strict guidance is in place.

Swansea councillor Ioan Richard said recovering gas should be of interest to us all.

Mr Richard, who represents the Mawr ward, said: "I am not talking about just out area, I’m talking about nationally.

"The potential is enormous, we’re sitting on billions of pounds worth of our own gas.

"What are we doing buying it from unstable countries when we have this source of natural gas."

Mr Richard, who began his career in the coal industry, and went on to the steel industry, added: "We should be looking at this with cautious interest to develop it if it can be done."

<b>What's happening locally?

COUNCILLORS will not be asked to make a decision on an application to explore for gases in the Afan Valley this month.

It was thought members of Neath Port Talbot Council’s planning committee would make a decision on UK Methane’s application to allow them to create an exploratory bore hole to test drill for shale gas on land within Foel Fynddau, Pontrhydyfen, on August 19.

But instead, a planning officer has written to councillors to say that a full site visit of the planning committee will be requested instead.

The visit is due to be held in September.

The Afan Nedd Against Fracking group was expected to demonstrate at the planning meeting and invited residents to attend the 1pm meeting with them, to show their support against the application.</b>

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