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Fracking and shale gas consultation starts in Scotland

Words: Roger Milne

The Scottish Government has begun consulting on the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, including on hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’, and coal bed methane extraction.

Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “As most of Scotland’s unconventional oil and gas deposits occur in and around former coalfields and oil shale fields in Scotland’s Central Belt, which contains some of the most densely populated areas of the country, as well as in the area around Canonbie, Dumfriesshire, it is vitally important that communities, businesses and interest groups from across Scotland have an opportunity to put their views across.”

He added: “The government has a very important decision to make in determining the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. Once the consultation closes and the responses have been independently analysed, we will then consider the full range of evidence, and make our recommendation. In doing so, we will give careful consideration to the extraction methods for both shale oil and gas, and coal bed methane.”

The Midland Valley (central Scotland) is estimated to hold at least 49.4 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. But it is likely that only some of it could be extracted. Under a central production scenario, around 2 per cent of this resource (947 billion cubic feet) is likely to be commercially viable for production, according to an assessment by the British Geological Survey (BGS).

The document suggests that recovering the shale gas could generate £1.2 billion (in total) for Scotland’s economy, and create 1,400 jobs. It could increase security of gas supply, particularly for energy-hungry industries. Additionally, it could potentially provide an important raw material for Scotland’s petrochemical sector, which is a significant employer. It also pointed out community benefit schemes triggered by the development could fund local investment.

But the government has highlighted that “strong, coordinated regulation would be required to reduce or eliminate adverse impacts”.

“An unconventional oil and gas industry is likely to lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, which would make it more challenging to achieve Scottish climate change targets.”

Kate Houghton, planning policy and practice officer, RTPI Scotland said noted that Scottish Government has launched its four month consultation on fracking just one week after its draft climate change plan (pdf) and its energy strategy.

"We are pleased to see these decisions considered as a suite of issues. It will be important that the decision on whether to allow fracking in Scotland is rooted in the national strategy for ensuring a secure supply of clean energy, and the ambitions for cutting carbon emissions outlined in the draft climate change plan.

"The retirement of much of Scotland’s existing energy generation capacity is expected in the near future. Given the long term nature of energy infrastructure delivery, this means we have an opportunity to make a choice about the direction of our energy production. The consultation on fracking will be essential scrutiny of the case for making unconventional gas part of this mix."

Talking "Fracking": A Consultation on Unconventional Oil and Gas can be found here.

Image credit | iStock