Scottish Government to decide on fracking in 2017

Cuadrilla fracking site

Photo: Cuadrilla Resources

The Scottish Government announced today it hoped to decide next year whether to allow fracking for unconventional oil and gas.

It published six studies about the technique this afternoon as part of its investigation into fracking.

Among the findings were:

  • Evidence of cancer-causing crystalline silica used in fracking posed a risk to workers
  • Fracking on a significant scale is not compatible with Scottish climate change targets unless three tests are met
  • Unconventional oil and gas could represent 0.1% of the Scottish GDP (central estimate)
  • Each shale gas well pad could require 13,000-93,000 vehicle movements over 20 years
  • The risk of induced earthquakes in the shale areas of central Scotland are low
  • There is a gap in regulations requiring long-term mechanism and responsibility for wells

Paul Wheelhouse - SNP - South Scotland

In a statement to the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said “a precautionary evidence-based approach” would continue.

He said there would be a four-month public consultation on the studies starting in January before parliament debated the issue and the decision was made.

A moratorium on fracking has been in place since January 2015. In June this year, members of the Scottish Parliament voted for an outright ban on fracking but the vote was not binding on the government. Last week, Labour’s environment spokesperson, Claudia Beamish, announced she was introducing a members bill to ban fracking on climate change grounds.

Mr Wheelhouse said:

“The extensive package of research published today will ensure the public has access to a comprehensive evidence base on the potential health, economic and environment impacts of UOG [unconventional oil and gas] ahead of the launch of the Scottish government’s public consultation in the early New Year.

“These studies are an important contribution to the examination of the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas technologies and underline the Scottish government’s precautionary, robust and evidence-based approach to UOG.”

Link to transcript of Paul Wheelhouse’s statement and the Scottish Parliament debate

Key points in the six reports


  • Overall, the evidence available was ‘inadequate’ as a basis to determine whether development of shale oil and gas or coal bed methane would pose a risk to public health
  • A number of airborne and water borne environmental hazards would be likely to occur as a result of unconventional oil and gas operations.
  • Fracking and disposal of waste water into deep injection wells were found to be associated with increased seismicity but there was inadequate evidence that this would result in physical risk to health
  • Sufficient evidence of respirable crystalline silica – a component of hydraulic fracturing fluids – occurred at levels that could pose a risk to the health of workers
  • Limited evidence that other hazards – such as airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and trophospheric ozone and waterborne total dissolved solids and metal ions – occurred at levels that could risk health of nearby residents
  • Waterborne methane occurred at levels that that posed a potential explosive risk
  • Inadequate evidence that other chemical hazards, noise, light or odours occurred at levels that posed a risk to physical health
  • Evidence of inadequacies in the current regulatory framework in Scotland
  • The health evidence, despite its inadequacies, justified adopting a precautionary approach. This could be based on adopting best practice, regulatory frameworks and community engagement

Report by National Health Services Scotland

Greenhouse gas emissions

  • There are considerable uncertainties about the implications of unconventional oil and gas for greenhouse gas emissions
  • There should be a strong regulatory framework if exploitation of unconventional oil and gas goes ahead in Scotland, including possibly a dedicated regulatory organisation
  • The current regulatory framework for greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland is unclear about who is responsible for what.
  • There may be gaps in current regulations over emissions to air, including fugitive methane
  • Exploiting unconventional oil and gas by fracking on a significant scale is not compatible with Scottish climate change targets unless three tests are met:
    • Emissions from well development, production and decommissioning must be strictly limited, with tight regulation and close monitoring
    • Fossil fuel consumption must remain in line with the requirements of Scottish emissions targets. Without carbon capture and storage, the use of fossil fuels in power generation, transport and buildings must be eliminated by 2060
    • Additional production emissions from shale wells will need to offset through reductions elsewhere in the Scottish economy
  • Overall emissions of Scottish shale gas, if tightly regulated, is likely to be broadly similar to that of imported gas
  • Scottish oil production would displace high-cost production elsewhere in the world, rather than increase overall oil product consumption or drive fuel switching

Report by the Committee on Climate Change


  • Unconventional oil and gas could represent 0.1% of the Scottish GDP (central estimate)
  • By 2062, shale gas cumulative output is estimated at 947 billion cubic feet (central estimate) – at current rates this represents 5.5 years of Scottish consumption
  • This assumes 20 pads, 15 wells per pad and production lifetime of each well of 15 years (central estimate)
  • At peak, an estimated 80 full-time equivalent jobs per pad would be created or 1,400 jobs in total (central estimate)
  • Estimated total spending of the industry to 2062 was estimated at £4.4bn, of which £2.2bn would be in Scotland (central estimate)
  • Additional total tax receipts across the UK to 2062 would be £1.4bn (central estimate)
  • Community benefit payments £217m to 2062 (central estimate)
  • If oil and gas prices were to remain at historically low levels it would be unlikely that unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland could be developed economically.
  • An extended period of low prices would make development unattractive and economic benefits would not materialise
  • Impacts on the environment, society and visual amenity were not quantified
  • Development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland would rely on an ability to obtain appropriate finance to support exploration and extraction

Report by KPMG LLP


  • Local communities will experience rises in traffic numbers, potentially for a number of years, with increases in noise, emissions, road damage and risks of accidents
  • Each shale gas well pad could require 13,000-93,000 vehicle movements over 20 years
  • Coal bed methane well pads would require about 93,000 vehicle movements over 12 years
  • Traffic movements could be 190 a week for two years during the development of a pad with 15 wells
  • Additional traffic movements are unlikely to be significant regionally or nationally and contribution to carbon emissions would be slight
  • Traffic movements for an individual well would be for a limited period but much longer for a multi-pad well or shale gas field
  • Sites with good highway links or in industrial areas are likely to have low impacts on communities compared with those in rural or suburban settings
  • Other impacts include road surface damage, increased risk of accidents and release of hazardous material, air pollution, noise, threat to nature conservation
  • All planning applications for unconventional oil and gas developments should require an Environmental Impact Assessment and Traffic Management Plan
  • Significant impacts would be avoided through appropriate mitigation
  • Enforcement officers should be appointed to ensure mitigation measures are implemented and enforced

Report by Ricardo Energy & Environment

Induced seismic activity

  • Scotland has low earthquake activity and the risk of damaging earthquakes is low
  • Earthquake activity in the Midland Valley, where the shale deposits are, is lower than in the north
  • A magnitude 4.4 earthquake (the largest linked to fracking at the time the report was compiled) would be felt by many people and may even cause some superficial damage if it happened in central Scotland
  • There is a small probability of induced earthquakes large enough to be felt
  • Increases in earthquake activity in the US is linked to waste water injection, rather than fracking
  • Lack of historical data and low background activity makes it hard to identify areas which might have a greater risk of induced seismicity from unconventional oil and gas operations

Report by British Geological Survey

Decommissioning, site restoration and aftercare

  • The panel identified a regulatory gap: the lack of any mechanism requiring long-term monitoring and responsibility for wells
  • Decommissioned wells are unlikely to leak gases if constructed and abandoned to comply with international standards and industry best practice
  • Poorly constructed wells may leak methane to air and allow subsurface leaks into groundwater
  • The risk is likely to be very low, but where hydrocarbons are under pressure the risk is greater if well integrity fails
  • Leaks from decommissioned wells should be monitored for as long as the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency considers necessary
  • Leaks from above ground tanks and pipes could contaminate ground and surface water and may need to be managed
  • Scotland’s regulatory framework for decommissioning is good compared with other countries
  • Devolution of licensing to the Scottish Government is an opportunity to strengthen powers requiring operators to provide financial guarantees to cover liabilities
  • An annual levy on consented wells or a mutual fund could be established to cover the costs of repairing leaking orphaned wells

Report by AECOM


Alexander Burnett - Conservative - Aberdeenshire West

Alexander Burnett, Scottish Tory energy spokesman

“This is yet another missed opportunity for the Scottish Government to send a clear and positive signal to the industry.

“Instead, we have more dithering and delay and a failure to recognise an opportunity to boost the economy and create jobs at a time when the North Sea oil and gas industry is in decline.”

Willie Rennie - Liberal Democrats - North East Fife

Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader

“It’s pretty clear that the Government is on a long journey to saying no to fracking and it’s good news that today it has not given the go-ahead to fracking.”

Claudia Beamish MSP - Labour - South of Scotland

Claudia Beamish, Scottish Labour environment and climate change spokesperson

“The SNP should use the opportunity today to back Labour’s plan to ban fracking in Scotland.

“The climate change science is already irrefutable; we don’t need another fossil fuel and we shouldn’t lock ourselves into relying on one when we need to be moving on to clean energy.

“If we want to leave our planet in the right condition for our grandchildren then we need to take responsibility now and outlaw fracking.”

Mary Church, head of campaigns, Friends of the Earth Scotland

“Fracking is bad for the climate, bad for public health and won’t do much good for the economy. That’s the damning verdict of the independent studies published by the Scottish Government today, echoing the concerns of communities across the country.

“The economic case for pursuing an unconventional gas industry in Scotland simply doesn’t stand up, while the risks of doing so could be utterly devastating for communities and the environment. No state has had a moratorium on fracking, looked at the evidence and decided it [fracking] is a good idea.

“Support for fracking is at an all-time low. People just don’t want this dirty, dangerous industry. We are confident that when the Scottish people are given a chance to have their say in the forthcoming Government consultation, the answer will be a resounding ‘no’ to fracking.”

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland

“Any considered review of the evidence should lead to the conclusion that there is no place for fracking in Scotland’s energy future. The climate science is clear, the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground. There is overwhelming public opinion in favour of cleaner forms of energy and a sufficient body of evidence on why unconventional oil and gas are neither good for people or the planet.

“Scotland should instead be playing to its natural advantages in clean, green renewable energy and capitalising on the jobs, climate benefits and health improvements a zero carbon future can deliver.”

Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas

“The risks for issues like seismicity are said to be low, there is “inadequate evidence” of any detrimental health impacts and in all cases the risks can be mitigated by good industry practice – much of which is already in place – with industry guidance already published – and the strong regulation.”

Link to full statement

Link to transcript of Paul Wheelhouse’s statement and the Scottish Parliament debate

9 replies »

  1. The only reason Sturgeon hasn’t outright banned fracking or allowed it to happen is because she is caught between a rock and a hard place.
    I’m Scottish but not an SNP supporter.
    To summarise, Scotland has been so used to getting a giro cheque it’s forgotten how to work (in terms of politicians). Sturgeon has zero clue how to increase her GDP and knows fracking will create jobs (the number of jobs is up for debate but it WILL create some). She is reluctant to turn down revenue but she has to appease her “followers” if she is to have any chance of independence and thus can’t push the button to get it going.
    What the majority of ppl in Scotland don’t understand is the true reason she is hell bent on independence (freeeeeeedom) and then joining the EU (zero freedom). It is because under the current agreement with Westminster she has a very limited ability to borrow where as under the EU she would be able to borrow 6 fold. I believe the comparative figure is 18 billion as against 3 billion. This would give the illusion for the short term the SNP were doing a grand job. Fake wealth through a credit card. But then of course that credit card will need repaid and that’s when we end up with a Greek style debt.
    I’d rather see genuine ideas for growth debated rather than the time wasting independence nonsense.
    Luckily I’m part of a silent majority so the SNP will never get their way but until a rival party raises it’s game we are stuck with them for the foreseeable future.

    • Scotland is looking at the evidence, doing the maths, and weighing it up in the balance. They are looking at the true picture of the industry.

      The stealth approach, avoiding environmental impact assessments, and salami slicing planning applications has come to an end.

      Shale will be decided on the industry in it’s entirety.

      Put your case for shale forward on that entirety Mr M and see what happens/already has happened.

      Simply put. Uk shale is not needed, not wanted and an investors nightmare.

  2. Fracking is not a ‘genuine’ or even a remotely good idea. The young want a clean and green sustainable future and are literally getting sick of ‘get rich quick’ fossil based ideas of extracting f.f’s. Enough of this toxic technology that the old N.L’s keep hanging on to. Fracking is one of the worst things you can do If you want to avoid Climate Change due to Methane emissions + irreversible environmental damage…unless you’re one those ‘Deniers’ (usually 55+). Of course, you must be happy now that Trump ‘rules the world’. I hope the SNP will ban fracking permanently + leave the so called ‘Union’ with the Tories ruling for at least the next 20 years!

    • I’m 55+++ Jack. I’m definitely not a climate denier. I’ll be in Manchester at the United Against Fracking National Rally next Saturday together with many more who are 55+. I detest Donald Trump, the Tories and all they stand for and I didn’t vote Leave either. I also know many young people who care far more about Britain’s Got Talent and the latest ‘celebrities’ than they do about what’s going on right under their nose. So please don’t tar all us Ancient Britons with the same brush.

  3. Jack, I’m in my sxties and I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country which doesn’t rely on very unpleasant dictatorships (no Trump jokes please) for its supply of energy. Just to remind you of the energy trilemma, our energy sources need to to be climate friendly, affordable and secure. At the moment renewables except biomass fail on the last two elements of that trilemma.

    • Sadly Mark, that’s because we don’t have enough. You constantly put them down, but don’t realise the urgency. You have grandchildren. You have to know the world they will live in if we continue the way we do will not be a good place.

      What is affordable. If you mean the monthly charge they you are dreaming if you think that shale will be affordable. Affordability is long term. We have to invest in clean energy technology and fast. We have to pay for this. Dong Energy have brought the price of wind power down to an affordable level. Time to maximise. If not I can see the next generation without land to live on, scarce resources, border fighting and mass migration due to sea level rises; food will become the new oil.

      You say you don’t want to rely on unpleasant dictatorships for its supply of energy. How do you think these countries came to power in the first place? Read your history. And who uses and then topples at will those who do not tow the line for oil supplies?

      Renewable energies can replace what we import and more besides. We still have our own source from the N Sea and we can buy from countries like Norway if needed – last time I looked that wasn’t an unpleasant dictatorship.

      Stop believing these myths posted by individuals who just want to create money that does not really exist. Think of those grandchildren. I am.

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