By Professor MICHAEL BRADSHAW
Since the Scottish Government placed a moratorium on shale gas development in late January 2015, it has been through an extensive period of research and public engagement.
This has included an Expert Panel review and special reports on various potential impacts of shale gas exploration and production.
There was nothing in those reports to suggest that the impacts would be so significant so as to rule out development, nor they would not be manageable within the existing regulatory regime.
This is the position of the UK Government in London that sees shale gas exploration as being in the national interest.
The consultation elicited responses from 60,353 people, but 52,000 of these were in the form of campaign responses and petition. However, there were also 8,000 substantive replies.
Fibbing by Friends of Earth with false fracking claims will make Scot-Govt’s final public consultation on shale gas worthless
Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse told the Scottish Parliament that the existing moratorium on fracking should go on ‘indefinitely’. This stops short of a ban as the moratoria could be lifted by a future Government.
When the consultation was announced, after the various reports had been produced, the mood music suggested that the size of the opportunity in Scotland was rather underwhelming.
A study by KPMG, commissioned by the Scottish Government, analysed the potential economic impact of shale gas and its central scenario suggested that the industry would contribute £1.2 billion up to 2062 and could create 1,400 jobs at its peak.
Far more significant would be the indirect impact from the supply of feedstock for Scotland’s petrochemical industry, where it would contribute to job preservation.
The owner of the Grangemouth refinery, INEOS, has invested in a fleet of vessels to bring ethane from the US. But INEOS does not see this as a long-term solution and had hoped that shale gas development could boost domestic production in the face of continuing declines in North Sea production.
Despite the need to compensate for falling North Sea production, the fact that 99% of responses to the consultation opposed shale gas development suggests that the Scottish Government are most concerned about what they call a lack of ‘social licence’ for shale gas development.
Scottish households will continue to heat their homes with gas and industry will continue to need gas, both as an energy source and feedstock.
Thus, the real challenge is managing the transition to a green future that is not based on natural gas, but for the foreseeable future Scotland will need gas and less of that gas will come from the North Sea.
Successful shale gas exploration in England might provide a new domestic source of supply and, if so, a positive demonstration effect that might lead to a lifting of the moratorium in Scotland in the future.
Just as likely is that the Scottish decision will stiffen the resolve of shale gas opponents in England see to a UK-wide ban.
Michael Bradshaw (pictured, above) of Warwick Business School is Professor of Global Energy and is researching global gas security for UKERC.
5 Oct 2017