Fracking could be done safely, finds report

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 17 June 2015 in News

Report from Royal Society of Edinburgh examines risks posed by fracking, calling for public debate on unconventional gas

Fracking for shale gas could be safely carried out in Scotland, according to a new report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).

The report, Options on Scotland’s Gas Future, suggests reducing demand for gas would help decrease the use of fossil fuel, alleviate fuel poverty, and help the environment.

However reducing gas demand will be difficult due to its use in heating, and because of energy inefficiencies in much of the UK’s housing.

RSE calls for public debate on unconventional gas extraction – a term used to include shale gas or coal bed methane.

The report says: “The impact of unconventional gas production on the environment is considered to be comparable to conventional gas. The areas of health, wellbeing and safety surrounding an onshore industry do not appear to present significant risks, although a degree of uncertainty is present.

“Domestic production onshore could improve energy security, create jobs and ensure Scotland takes responsibility for its energy consumption.”

The report recognises high levels of public opposition to fracking, with over half of Scots stating they believe the practice is unsafe, but also finds the associated risks would be low.

It says: “These reports found that safety risks associated with fracking can be effectively managed provided that the industry is robustly regulated and monitored.”

Comparing peak levels of vibrations to residential property from fracking to “‘nuisance’ vibrations such as the slamming of a door”, it says: “The seismic activity Scotland could expect from fracking would, at its peak, be felt by very few people and would be likely to cause only very minor surface impact, if any at all.”

The Society also describes the risk of fracking causing gas or chemical fluids contaminating water supplies as “low”.

However the report warns public perceptions could be become so entrenched “it is possible that no amount of scientific evidence will suffice in gaining popular support for onshore development.”

It also warns that regardless of regulation fracking would still produce greenhouse gases (GHG) with a similar intensity to conventional gas.

The report finds it is unlikely the price of gas would decrease significantly as a result of embracing domestic unconventional gas and that due the cost of extraction, the gas would likely prove no cheaper than imported gas.

Responding to the report, Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone MSP said: “This report highlights the need to continue to fight the prospect of fracking in our communities. The Scottish Government's moratorium, along with the suspended licensing round, is giving worried communities breathing space but it is also giving wealthy developers and backers the chance to lobby for something that is unwelcome and unnecessary.

“And the moratorium does not cover already licensed offshore developments such as coal gasification, proposed for the Forth.

“The report makes clear that demand reduction measures such as major investment in energy efficient homes would deliver the most positive impacts in terms of safety, the health of our communities, the economy, energy security and social justice.”

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