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by Kate Shannon
16 December 2016
Breaking convention: fracking and Scotland

Breaking convention: fracking and Scotland

Potential fracking sites in central Scotland - Image credit: Holyrood

In January 2015, the Scottish Government announced a block on fracking.

Then energy minister Fergus Ewing said: “I’m announcing a moratorium on the granting of planning consents for all unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking.”

He attacked the UK Government and said Holyrood ministers had taken a “cautious” approach to the controversial process, while Westminster had sought to develop it “quickly, at any cost”.

The moratorium prevented the development of any project involving hydraulic fracturing or any coal-bed methane extraction technologies.

Fast forward almost two years and the Scottish Government has announced it will now make a decision on whether to allow fracking in the second half of 2017.

A recent poll carried out by BMG found that 54 per cent of Scots said that they supported a fracking ban, 19 per cent were opposed, while the rest said that neither option matched their opinion. The poll of 1,039 people was undertaken in October.

Discussing the results, WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “In the interests of addressing climate change, we urge Scottish ministers to listen to the public and implement a ban on fracking as they have already done on underground coal gasification.

“Scotland should instead be playing to its natural advantages in clean, green renewable energy and capitalising on the jobs, climate benefits and health improvements a zero-carbon future can deliver.”

A package of six reports was released by the Scottish Government at the start of November to inform its position on whether or not to allow any unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development (fracking) in Scotland.

A public consultation based on the studies will be launched in January before any decision is made, while at the same time, the Scottish Government will publish its climate change plan and commission a full strategic environmental assessment.

Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Paul Wheelhouse said: “The extensive package of research published will ensure the public has access to a comprehensive evidence base on the potential health, economic and environment impacts of UOG ahead of the launch of the Scottish Government’s public consultation in the early new year.

“These studies are an important contribution to the examination of the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas technologies, including fracking and coal-bed methane extraction, and underline the Scottish Government’s precautionary, robust and evidence-based approach to UOG.

“In taking this approach we are mindful that those areas of Scotland across which it has been suggested industry wishes to deploy either fracking or coal-bed methane extraction are located across the central belt of Scotland: one of the most densely populated areas of the country.

“Those communities would be directly affected by any unconventional oil and gas development, and must be given genuine opportunities to explore and discuss the evidence in depth and at length.

“This is a debate that has attracted strong views and much controversy and, unlike the gung-ho approach of UK ministers, the Scottish Government’s consultation will give everyone who has an interest in this issue an opportunity to express their view.

“This is what the public and stakeholders expect, this is what we promised in our manifesto, and this is what we are delivering.

“Once the consultation closes and the results have been independently analysed and published, we will make our recommendation on the future of unconventional oil and gas and allow Parliament to vote on it, after which, the Scottish Government will come to a considered judgment on the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.”

The research published included a public health impact assessment, although Health Protection Scotland concluded that “the evidence considered was inadequate as a basis to determine whether development of shale oil and gas or coal-bed methane would pose a risk to public health”.

As well as the health study, five commissioned research projects were published looking at:

•             Economic impacts

•             Climate change

•             Decommissioning, site restoration and aftercare

•             Understanding and monitoring induced seismic activity

•             Community-level impact on transport

The reports found there would be an increase in traffic for a number of years due to industrial activity were fracking to be permitted, but that the probability of “felt earthquakes” was “very small”.

The economic report described a series of different scenarios, with anything from 470 to over 3,000 jobs potentially created, and value added to the Scottish economy to 2062 anywhere from £100m to £4.6bn.

Friends of the Earth said it was confident the Scottish people would not support fracking.

Head of campaigns Mary Church said: “Fracking is bad for the climate, bad for public health and won’t do much good for the economy.

“That’s the damning verdict of the independent studies published by the Scottish Government, echoing the concerns of communities across the country.

 “The economic case for pursuing an unconventional gas industry in Scotland simply doesn’t stand up, while the risks of doing so could be utterly devastating for communities and the environment.

“No state has had a moratorium on fracking, looked at the evidence and decided it’s a good idea.

 “Support for fracking is at an all-time low. People just don’t want this dirty, dangerous industry.

“We are confident that when the Scottish people are given a chance to have their say in the forthcoming government consultation, the answer will be a resounding ‘no’ to fracking.”

However, UKOOG, the trade body for the onshore oil and gas industry, welcomed the publication of the studies, which it believes “clearly demonstrate the economic case for promoting exploration in Scotland while showing a pathway for other risks to be mitigated”.

Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG, said: “The studies by experts including Health Protection Scotland, KPMG and the British Geological Survey, clearly demonstrate the case for lifting the moratorium on unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.

“The experts show that the Scottish economy could benefit by over £11 billion including up to £6.5 billion of spending in Scotland, creating over 3,000 much needed jobs from unconventional oil and gas development and meeting up to 18 years of current Scottish gas consumption.

“This excludes the additional and important economic benefits to the chemical industry in Scotland including Grangemouth.

“In addition, local communities could be expected to receive up to £1 billion in community benefits.

“The risks for issues like seismicity are said to be low, there is ‘inadequate evidence’ of any detrimental health impacts and in all cases the risks can be mitigated by good industry practice – much of which is already in place, with industry guidance already published – and the strong regulation.

“We hope that the publication of these studies can lead to a reasoned debate across a wider audience about the future of the onshore oil and gas industry in Scotland.

“Gas plays an important role in Scotland’s domestic economy, with 79 per cent of domestic heating provided by gas.

“In addition, industrial and commercial gas consumption makes up 43 per cent of all gas consumed in Scotland.

“Scotland has the highest mean domestic consumption and also one of the highest commercial consumptions in the UK, reflecting the industrial positon of Scotland.

“In fact, in 2013, 88 per cent of all Scotland’s energy came from either oil or gas.

“As an industry based on over 50 years of experience, both onshore and offshore, we are confident that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely and environmentally sensitively within the regulatory environment in Scotland.”

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