Halite under fire on brine blast ‘evidence’

A public meeting at Wyre Football Club between Halite, campaigners and residents to discuss the report into a recent brine well eruption.
A public meeting at Wyre Football Club between Halite, campaigners and residents to discuss the report into a recent brine well eruption.

HALITE Energy is continuing to refuse to reveal evidence to back up its claims that the brinewell explosion at Preesall this summer could have been caused by someone tampering with the wellhead.

And the US-financed company, which will lodge its multi-million pound gas store plans for the Wyre estuary soon, is also refusing to make public the name of the private forensic firm which investigated claims of tampering.

Company boss Keith Budinger came under fire from members of the public who attended the open briefing session into the incident held at Wyre Villa, Stalmine, for refusing to share the evidence.

The blast, on June 18, resulted in tonnes of salty mud from disused ICI salt workings, spewing out onto a field and country lane, killing vegetation.

Mr Budinger told the 100 people present that within two weeks of the June 18 blast the company received several “pieces of information” from the public which aroused the firm’s suspicions.

He said when the company brought in a private investigative team, forensic evidence was found to back up the circumstantial evidence.

He said after that the company’s board believed it had a legal obligation to go to the police.

“If we did not disclose it to the police and somebody tampered with a well head and killed themselves we would be guilty,” he said.

There was a cynical response from the audience when Mr Budinger was persistently pressed over the evidence, and guffaws when asked by Preesall mayor Coun Viv Taylor the name of the private forensic firm - which he declined to give.

In one exchange between the two, Coun Taylor told Mr Budinger not to shout at her.

Mr Budinger said Halite was continuing its investigations adding: “I can’t share with you the forensic evidence because we wish to pursue the investigation work. When we can share it with you, we will. We have nothing to hide.”

As previously reported the police investigation found no verifiable evidence either way to indicate if a crime had been committed.

Quizzed about who the people were who contacted the company, or if those people had rung anonymously, Mr Budinger said he could not say.

Mr Budinger said there had been complaints about the way Halite had handled the incident and its aftermath, but pointed out the various authorities with which the company had worked, including the Health and Safety Executive, had been totally satisfied with the company’s response and actions.

Mr Budinger also stressed the incident was mechanical rather than geological, involving a section of borehole casing being distorted and ruptured in an airlock in the brinewell linked to what he called “third party interference.” He said he had not used the word sabotage.

Asked by Coun Taylor for an assurance that a similar incident would not happen again, Mr Budinger said Halite was identifying all the well heads containing air pockets.

Mr Ian Mulroy revealed that he had lodged questions with police under the Freedom of Information Act, which the police, after initially declining to answer had shortly after answered some of his questions.

Mr Budinger said Halite would prosecute anyone found tampering with its wellheads, and revealed the company, was taking legal action against a traveller who has been trespassing on company land for several weeks. Two alleged poachers found by police on Halite land are also to be prosecuted.

The only support for Halite came from Mr David Evans of Cleveleys, who revealed he had done work for Halite’s predecessor company, Canatxx, and who is a member of Halite’s independent community liaison panel. He thought Mr Budinger’s answers were “effectively the best replies you can give” but added Halite should be freer with its information.

Mr Evans’ intervention after more than an hour of public questions prompted a section of the audience to walk out of the hall, with one member of the public saying loudly “This is a PR disaster!”

• Halite intends to lodge its plans for gas storage under the Wyre estuary within the next few days. See next week’s Courier for more on that and more on the outcome of Mr Mulroy’s FoI request to the police.