The Scottish government’s public consultation on whether unconventional oil and gas extraction (UOG) should be allowed in Scotland, has variously been described as biased by the fracking industry and kicking the issue into the long grass by opposition parties. A final decision is expected to be made later this year.
The moratorium on UOG has been in place since January 2015, while the government has been examining the evidence. The moratorium outlaws the process of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, for shale oil and gas and coalbed methane. Fracking involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high-pressure into rock fissures deep underground to release gas trapped inside. Wales also has a moratorium, but it is permitted in England, where horizontal drilling has been given the go-ahead in Yorkshire.
The consultation paper says Scotland’s key reserves are to be found in the Midland Valley, 2,000 square kilometres of land across the central belt. The British Geological Survey has described reserves here as “modest” – around six billion barrels of shale oil and 80 trillion cubic feet of shale gas.
Supporters of shale gas say it is an important energy source that could become a major new industry for Scotland. They point to the economic study commissioned by the government that found allowing shale gas extraction could generate up to £3.9 billion in tax revenues, create more than 3,000 jobs and produce the equivalent of 18 years of Scottish gas consumption. However, the study also warned that low oil and gas prices would make it uneconomic.
Critics claim fracking poses serious safety risks to people and the planet through effects such as toxic air pollution, contamination of water, and seismic events. It has also been blamed for reduced house prices. However, critics focus on the need to develop clean energy sources rather than another dirty fossil fuel that undermines Scotland’s climate change action plans.
Politically, the Scottish Parliament voted narrowly in favour of a full ban on fracking last summer. SNP MSPs abstained, but the Scottish Greens, Liberal Democrats and Labour joined forces to defeat the Tories. Scottish Labour MSP, Claudia Beamish, also has a private members bill out for consultation that would ban fracking.
The Scottish government is seeking the “widest possible range of voices” to take part. So this is the chance to speak out and make sure you get your say in this important decision. The www.talkingfracking.scot website will run for the duration of the consultation. Discussion tool-kits have been created to help communities and other groups participate in the consultation and are on this site. The consultation closes on 31 May 2017.
The arguments for and against fracking will continue and the research evidence on safety and economic benefit is somewhat short of being conclusive. The key issue is do we want a Scotland that focuses on clean energy, or return to dirty fossil fuels. On those grounds alone, there remains a strong case to ban fracking.