In short, in answer to the question, “Can onshore shale gas exploration and recovery operations be safely carried out in Scotland,” the expert answer is; “Yes – with some improvement in a regulatory and health and safety regime’.
The various experts on seismicity, public health, environment, the economy / job- creation and employment were not asked to provide recommendations.
Instead, the provide confirmation of the facts and added some new ones in the case of the KPMG report on the economic impact of shale gas exploration in Scotland.
So, the situation today remains as it was yesterday. Shale gas exploration and recovery using the hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) process commonly used offshore in the North Sea is (still) banned under the minority-SNP-led Scot-Govt’s (temporary’) moratorium on any development planning applications to explore for shale.
And it will remain banned until the Scot-Govt brings a resolutive motion for debate in Holyrood – either by June 2017, or in the next session beginning in August 2017.
This is because, as announced in Holyrood today by Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish Energy Minister, ‘no decisions have been made by today’s expert reports’.
“And we will now go out for a full public consultation so that the people most likely to be affected by shale gas exploration in communities across the Central Belt can have their opportunity to make sure their energy voices are heard.”
In answers to questions from both Murdo Fraser, Conservative MSP and shadow Economy Minister, and from Alexander Burnett, Conservative MSP and Shadow Scottish Energy Minister, Wheelhouse declined to say when such a vote would be held in Holyrood.
Shadow Energy Minister Burnett, in particular, highlighted the irony of Paul Wheelhouse pictured in an article published in Scottish Energy News alongside the chief executive of a North Sea oil exploration company which has jointly launched a new fracking initiative to recover more ‘tight gas’ (aka ‘shale’) reserves.
Wheelhouse did, however, confirm that the next (new) public consultation on shale gas exploration would be launched as one of a ‘pack of three’ – by the Scot-Govt in January 2017. The two other consultations to be launched at the same time will be the Scot-Govt’s new draft Scottish Energy Strategy and its associated environment (aka climate-change’) draft bill on proposed new targets for cutting emissions of greenhouses gases.
This means, in effect, a Scottish fracking industry is dead – but the industry remains to be politically buried.
Given that large number of SNP MPs in Holyrood are implacably opposed to onshore shale gas, while the Green Party and the Labour Party in Scotland are also against the industry, the almost inevitable outcome of a (nother) debate in the Scottish parliament will see a majority vote for a complete and permanent prohibition on hydraulic fracturing.
Scottish shale industry; the new economic facts
The KPMG expert report on the economic impact of an onshore Scottish shale gas energy found that it would create up to 1,400 new direct and indirect supply chain jobs.
The value of the shale itself would add £2.2 billion to the Scottish economy, with another £1.2bn in the supply chain from around 15 drill holes in some 20 sites across the Central Belt – equivalent to 0.1% of Scottish gross domestic product.
But Wheelhouse said the value of any economic benefits had to considered along with environmental costs and impacts and added: “Today, the Scottish government is not making any statement on these findings prior to <new> public consultation.
A source inside the Scottish Parliament building explained: “ All that’s happened today is that the Scottish Government’s hand-picked experts came up with the answer the SNP didn’t want – ie they said that fracking for shale can be carried out safely in Scotland.
“So the SNP are opening up shale to the ‘court of public opinion’ and leaving the NIMBYs to shout loudly and deny the expert evidence and drown out the scientific facts in a sea of ignorance.
“This is a complete abnegation of strategic government and national leadership by the SNP – it’s the political equivalent of saying ‘we’re going to abolish jury trials, bring back hanging verdicts on hearsay evidence whilst – for good measure – bringing back the ‘water test’ for witches.”