EXCLUSIVE: Fall-out from Scot-govt. fracking ‘ban’ shuts down geo-thermal renewable exploration

CGI of a typical geo-thermal renewable energy project. If this looks like fracking, it's because it is like fracking.
CGI of a typical geo-thermal renewable energy project. If this looks like fracking, it’s because it is like fracking.

EXCLUSIVE by Scottish Energy News

The concept and practice of ‘fracking’ – the practice of splitting, or fracturing rock formations deep underground which is used day and daily in the offshore N. Sea oil industry – has become so toxic that it is deterring investment in the geo-thermal energy sector in Scotland.

This hitherto overlooked ‘political by-product’ of the Scot-Govt’s temporary moratorium on onshore shale gas exploration was raised by independent academic experts at the UK Shale Energy conference in Glasgow last week.

Strictly-speaking, it is not ‘fracking’ itself that is ‘banned’ under the moratorium; rather it is planning applications for shale gas exploration which are banned, as announced in parliament by the Scottish Energy Minister (then Fergus Ewing, MSP) on 28 January 2015.

His statement said: “ … I am announcing today a moratorium on the granting of planning consents for all unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking. This moratorium will continue until such time as… ”

So, while applications for hydraulic fracturing process (aka ‘fracking’) are intra vires technically competent and lawful, no such applications have been made since the moratorium was announced.

But ‘fracking’ – both the word and the concept – has been so demonised by a largely fact-free and quasi faith-based opposition which ignores swathes of both independent, probative and robust scientific, public health and technological studies that it now also risks aborting the nascent Scottish geo-thermal (‘hot rocks) energy industry.

Geo-thermal boreholes also require to use hydraulic fracturing procedures to access heat trapped under pressure in rocks far below ground level.

But Dr. Rob Westaway, Senior Research Fellow in Quantitative Geothermics at Glasgow University told the UK Shale Energy Conference that ‘the fracking ban is having another negative effect in inhibiting the development of the geo-thermal industry.”

Dr. Westaway said commercial players were holding back from investing in geo-thermal energy for fear that they would be ‘lumped together with the shale gas explorers.

“Developers simply do not want to pursue geo-thermal energy projects that involve fracking.”

The same point was made by Professor Karen Turner, Director of the Centre for Energy Policy at Strathclyde University – which is presently conducting its own research study in to the economics and politics of shale energy.

She said: “We need to improve the quality of debate around shale – which is heavily polarised.

“For example, if not shale, what are the alternatives – both political and economic. With the decline in North Sea gas, should we use the highly-transferable skills of workers in this field in exploring for onshore oil and gas?

“Are the potential benefits – and risks – set in the right context? Look at the agriculture industry, for example. It is heavy user of hydro-carbon-based fertilisers, while bovine-produced methane is 30 times more harmful than C02.

“And last – but not least; has the <fracking> moratorium been placed on the ‘right thing’.

“Fracking technology is also used in the geo-thermal energy industry and one of the unintended effects of the ‘ban’ has been delays and increased uncertainty – and these factors are having an adverse impact in the private-sector energy supply industry to plan and deliver the energy we need.

An oil industry veteran and Scottish-educated engineer later added: “Nobody – including the Scottish First Minister nor the Scottish Energy Minister – gave any thought to the unintended consequences of the ‘fracking ban’ on ‘hot rocks’ – which is now likely to strangle a much-needed new Scottish energy sector at birth.

“And even more incompetent, the left-hand of Sturgeon’s government doesn’t appear to know what the right-hand is doing – when only last year it announced £250,000 of funding from Scottish taxpayers to support five independent projects to examine the potential value and location of geo-thermal locations in Scotland, which is only what the shale gas explorers want to do.

“Prof. Karen Turner is also dead right in saying the public debate is too polarised.

“From the energy provider perspective in terms of keeping the lights on, it’s not ‘Renewables Versus Shale’ – instead it should be a case of ‘Renewables AND Shale’.

“Shale gas is the cleanest, cheapest and – if we explore it ourselves – the most secure and reliable alternative to the late King Coal and nuclear power, which is on industrial death-row in Scotland.

“We’re going to need (shale) gas to replace coal and nuclear baseload for when the wind doesn’t blow and the Sun doesn’t shine.”

Pixie Energy

Pixie logo Pixie Energy is an incubator and a facilitator of strategic research and project work, focusing on energy regulation, policy and markets at the local and national level. Find out more about Pixie Energy here.

Local Energy Matters: Scotland

Local Energy Matters: Scotland is a free-to-download brochure with a focus on energy tariffs in the two Scottish electricity distribution regions, as well news on local energy and low-carbon schemes.

Previous editions can be download here.

Scottish energy market overview

You can read an overview of the Scottish energy market here.

Scottish Government energy feed