On the same day that the UK government announced its latest licensing round for onshore oil and gas, the Scottish Government’s own expert report on ‘unconventional’ oil was kicked into the long grass by the decision of Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing to set up another working group – which will inevitably not make any report this side of the Scottish Independence referendum.
The independent Expert Scientific Panel looking at unconventional oil and gas was convened by the Scottish Government in September 2013 to review and report on the scientific facts available on unconventional hydrocarbons.
Dr. Chris Masters, Chairman of the Expert Scientific Panel, said: “Scotland has a significant petrochemical industry, a rich heritage in the extractive industries and some advantages in terms of an existing supply chain and experience with the offshore oil and gas industry.
“The Panel found that there are no significant technological impediments to the development of an onshore unconventional hydrocarbon industry in Scotland and furthermore that the technology currently exists to extract such hydrocarbons safely.
“The Panel also found that much of the regulatory regime is already in place to ensure effective monitoring and control of unconventional oil and gas developments, although a number of areas were identified which require further consideration.”
Ewing said: “I welcome this report, which is an important contribution to the debate around the potential development of onshore unconventional hydrocarbons.
“The Scottish Government has always been clear that our approach to this issue is evidence-based and this report helps us to do that. I pay tribute to the Chair of the Panel, Dr Chris Masters, and all the serving Panel members who gave up their time freely to produce this authoritative, yet dispassionate, analysis of the available evidence.
“The Panel report gives us an opportunity to consider some areas that may require further analysis. For example, it seems clear that much of the evidence relating to health impacts is either emerging or anecdotal and we will work closely with colleagues in Health Protection Scotland to consider the issues in the Panel report further.
“Equally, while it is clear from the report that there could be potential for an unconventional hydrocarbon industry in Scotland, the Expert Panel has also identified challenges and areas in the regulatory regime which should be looked at further.
“Unconventional oil and gas developments should only ever happen under a robust regulatory regime, and the Scottish Government takes this issue particularly seriously.
Therefore the Scottish Government will set up a Working Group to consider the findings of the Expert Scientific Panel’s report in more detail and to ensure regulation of this industry is completely robust.
“We will announce the Chairperson, membership and remit of the Working Group in due course.
“The views of the local communities are of prime importance to us, and they will have an opportunity to feed their views and concerns into this group.
“This report also builds on our recently-published Scottish Planning Policy, which gave serious consideration to concerns over unconventional oil and gas with five main changes to strengthen planning policy. These include new rules on hydraulic fracturing, which will compel operators to consult with the public, and buffer zones to protect communities which will be assessed by planning authorities and statutory consultees.”