Fracking: ‘Gang plank to climate chaos’ or ‘necessary part of decarbonisation’?


A supporter and opponent of onshore fracking went head to head at Westminster yesterday in a debate on shale gas.

Professor Peter Strachan (pictured left), of Robert Gordon University, and Stephen Tindale, co-founder of Climate Answers, were giving evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on unconventional gas and oil.

Professor Strachan, Strategy & Policy Group Lead at Aberdeen Business School, argued that fracking would be banned in Scotland because it failed key tests on energy security, economics, environment and public health, climate change. “We should say no to this dirty fuel”, he said.

Stephen Tindale, who told the meeting he was now a consultant to INEOS Shale, argued: “Shale is a necessary part of decarbonisation”. The former adviser to the industry- funded Shale Gas Task Force (2014-2015) and Executive Director of Greenpeace (2000-2006) added that he was confident fracking would be “well regulated enough” in the UK.

This is what the two men said – in their own words – on key fracking issues:

Does fracking have a social licence?

Peter Strachan

There is no social licence for shale gas north or south of the border. It lacks public support in the UK. The government’s public opinion tracker published in October 2016 found that only 17% of people support fracking. In comparison, 79% of people support renewable energy.

Stephen Tindale

I agree. There isn’t a social licence at the moment. But that can change. One of the reasons I thought it was appropriate for me to try to speak out was because I think too many of the green movement are ignoring the human rights argument but also ignoring the potential role of gas in reducing emissions and the issue of whether shale gas is used in electricity generation is not as bad as coal.

Does importing gas support slave labour?

Stephen Tindale

The Greenpeace 2030 Energy Scenarios  report says 25% of heating should be electric. That is good. That is the right direction to go. That leaves 75% to come from what? The answer is gas. The question then is where does the gas come from?

At the moment, we get a lot of gas from Qatar [25%]. In my view, we should not be getting gas from Qatar, not primarily for climate reasons. More important is the human rights case.

The International Trades Union Congress has done an excellent report on Qatar, which says that however good the direct employer tries to be it is effectively a slave labour economy. To me, supporting a slave labour economy by trading is wrong. So I think the human rights case on importing gas from Qatar needs to be answered.

Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, all these potential places that we could import from, they have very problematic human rights records.

Peter Strachan

I do agree that the UK should take a firm approach to human rights, wherever that should be the case. The UK, however, has fairly strong diplomatic, military and economic ties with Qatar. The trading relationship with that country is worth £5bn a year. Through diplomatic and other means we should be putting pressure on Qatar to clean up its act.

What about our obligation to the citizens of the United Kingdom, to protect them from the threat of climate change?

How much gas do we need?

Peter Strachan

I do slightly object to the point that Stephen and other campaigners take when they start with the question where do we currently get our gas from. I think that’s a mistake.

The specific question we should be asking is how much gas do we actually need in the future? We need to work backwards from that and think about what other low carbon options are available, such as energy efficiency, conservation measures and such like.

If you ask the question ‘how much gas do we actually need?’ you can develop a scenario where we can produce enough gas offshore along with low carbon options onshore.

Stephen Tindale

Shale gas is a fossil fuel yes, but not all fossil fuels are as bad as each other.

Gas is much more about heating than it is about electricity generation. It will remain the main heating fuel for many decades.

It is going to take decades to replace all the domestic heating with electricity and some of the renewables – biomass and biofuels – have very dodgy climate credentials so not everything from renewables is good. That’s why we need other forms of low carbon heating to get enough low carbon electricity to replace not only fossil fuels generation but also oil for transport and gas for domestic heating. So we need a lot more low carbon electricity.

Electricity can’t be used for all heating. Electricity cannot provide heat that is hot enough to carry out industrial processes. So we need other forms of heat, some of which can be from nuclear and some of it should be gas with CCS [carbon capture and storage].

Threat to climate change or necessary bridge?

Peter Strachan

The Committee on Climate Change concluded [in a report for the Scottish Government] emissions from fracking in Scotland would be inconsistent with climate change emissions targets in Scotland.

Research by Nick Corwen and Robin Russell James submitted to the Committee on Climate Change identified another problem attached to fracked gas. Their concern is fugitive methane emissions. These emissions, over the life cycle, make fracked gas two times worse than coal.

Exploiting more fossil fuels is stop climate warming is, in my view, a ludicrous argument. Fracking is a gang plank to climate chaos. The precautionary approach should be adopted.

The climate change issues are significant. By 2030-2035 we will be looking at oil and gas in a completely different way. We might see the end of companies such as Shell, BP. A whole different ethical and moral perspective will dominate. For me it is 100% renewable energy future and until we get to that point we can source enough gas offshore and from Norway to meet any needs that we may have.

Stephen Tindale

Shale is a necessary part of decarbonisation.

Renewables and energy efficiency are the ideal scenario but it is going to take a very long time, even if your objective is to be 100% reliant on renewable energy. It is going to take many decades.

The only country that I am aware of that has a target of 100% renewables for all energy uses is Denmark. Denmark’s target is 2050. They are already a long way ahead of most others, they get about 40% of their energy from renewables.

In my view, 100% renewable is not the correct target because only bioenergy and geothermal produces heat directly.

Carbon capture and storage

Stephen Tindale

The CCS situation is the fault of the UK government* but I very much hope that the Scottish Government will be supportive of calls for Greg Clark [the Business Secretary] to reintroduce the CCS approach because we do need it.

I kind of agree that without CCS gas has no long-term future, certainly in the power sector. CCS in the heating sector is more complex.

I hope the Scottish Government will see fit to support onshore fracking for shale gas

The Committee on Climate Change has indicated that their expectation is that for CCS for gas it is going to be less expensive than CCS for coal. The country that has experience of CCS for gas is Norway and they have been doing it since 1994. They have not been using it in power generation but they have been using it at an offshore gas facility because the gas was not right for generating electricity. They have been making carbon dioxide out of it and they have been successfully storing that since 1994.

In the UK, in my view, the government should focus the CCS effort not on coal but on gas.

Peter Strachan

In my view fracking threatens the climate.  Fracking without CCS is a show-stopper. We shouldn’t even be thinking about it.


Peter Strachan

Fracking economics just don’t add up. It is a boom and bust industry in the United States. It is also a debt-ridden industry.

The Scottish Government report commissioned from KPMG concluded: ‘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’.

If you take the low range estimates [from the KPMG report] of what fracking would be worth to the economy, I was astonished at how little the contribution was. Estimated total spend to 2062: £1.5bn; estimated total value added to the Scottish economy: £0.1bn; jobs created: 470; tax receipts: £0.5bn.

In my view this is negligible.

Stephen Tindale

Will shale gas be economic? I don’t know. Nobody knows because the geology of the UK is very different from the US so it needs to be tested. Is that a waste of money? It might be. The question then is whose money is it? Is it public money? No.

There should not be any direct subsidy or grants to the shale industry. Should there be tax breaks? Yes, possibly, because at the moment there is no revenue from tax so if you reduce the tax rate it might get something. That could be usefully used in Scotland to support local councils.

On economics: we don’t know, we shouldn’t give public money to it but we should be prepared to allow them to proceed if they have their own money.

Impact on other industries

Peter Strachan

Fracking is a direct threat to the renewables sector. Already, as a result of government policy we have seen thousands of people in the renewable sector lose their jobs. In addition, fracking is a threat to the offshore and gas industry. Shale gas will derail our transition to a low carbon economy.

Going on international experience, there is every likelihood that fracking would have an adverse impact on other industries, whether the threat is real or perceived.

Tourism, agricultural, food and drink are heavily dependent on having a beautiful natural environment and water. For UK Plc, fracking will undoubtedly damage these sectors. In Australia, for every 10 new jobs created by shale oil and gas agriculture loses 18 jobs.

The KPMG report [for the Scottish Government] concluded ‘Development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland will also rely on the ability to obtain appropriate funding (debt and/or equity) to support exploration and extraction’.

I don’t think that the banking sector will be impressed by this debt laden industry in the UK.

The recent financial crisis witnessed in the US fracking industry will undoubtedly impact on the $100bn that will be required over a 20-year period to make a UK fracking industry in any way meaningful. That money would be better spent on lower carbon sources. I would recommend that money should be spend on the renewable sector.

Fracking is creating energy insecurity in the offshore oil and gas industry and in the renewables sector.

Steohen Tindale

Energy insecurity in the renewables sector is not being caused by shale. It is being caused by the Government’s flip flops.

Their attitude to onshore wind is inconsistent with their attitude to shale. They’re saying if a local council says no to an onshore wind farm that’s it, no question of calling it in. But on shale if a local council says no they call it in. That inconsistency is not an acceptable basis, in my view, for energy policy. They should both be treated the same. So, shale and onshore wind should be subject to call in because they’re both in the national interest.

Energy security and low carbon economy

Peter Strachan

I don’t think that shale fracking is a solution to the multi-faceted energy challenges that we face in the United Kingdom. Fracking will not help address the 2020 energy crisis we are facing. The shale gas revolution cannot happen quickly enough to address this.

Talking about gas as a bridging fuel is derailing our transition to a lower carbon economy.

Shale gas is the enemy it is not going to help that process.

The SNP 2015 manifesto stated ‘We will not allow fracking or underground coal gasification in Scotland unless it can be proved beyond any doubt that it will not harm the environment, community or public health’.

In my view, the Scottish government can reach only one conclusion and that is to ban fracking in Scotland. Both Westminster and Holyrood must ultimately end their continued fixation with fossil fuels. A better solution is to harness the power of the wind, sun and also the sea of the United Kingdom.

Stephen Tindale

When Amber Rudd [former Energy Secretary] said ‘We are going to shut down coal generation’ she said only if there is energy security, by which she meant only if there is alternatives available installed. So, if there isn’t capacity installed coal will stay open. That is pretty much the worst outcome from a climate perspective.

I completely agree we need to do much more on wind. We need to do much more marine and tidal power.

Environment and public health

Peter Strachan

Fracking fails in a spectacular way on the test of environment and public health. A definitive review of the literature that has been published on shale gas extraction [Towards an Understanding of the Environmental Health Impacts of Unconventional Natural Gas Development] has results that are quite revealing. 84% of the literature on health revealed public health hazards, elevated risks or health impacts. 69% of the literature indicated positive associations or actual evidence of water contamination. 87% found elevated air pollutants and atmospheric concentration of pollutants.

People should be frightened of chemicals when it comes to fracking. Evidence from the Yale School of Public Health on chemicals used in the fracking process in the United States found significant contamination of water, land and air.

Insufficient weight in the UK and Scotland has been given to the health and environmental issues associated with fracking. … Much of the peer-reviewed evidence is being overlooked.

An argument often given by the pro-fracking fraternity is that we can regulate the risk away.

We’re told that you can regulate away all risk but the problem with regulations is they are not preventative.

If you look at the offshore oil and gas industry. During the past few months for example we have had two major spills offshore. … Just think of the devastation such an oil leak could have onshore.

Stephen Tindale

I agree it is a developing science and I agree it needs to be very strictly regulated and very strictly monitored.

The experience from the US under W [George W Bush] was basically amateur cowboys and so some terrible things happened. Yes, Obama has tightened up the regulations, quite considerably, and I think in the UK they [the oil and gas industry] have a good regulatory record. So I think there are grounds for confidence that it would be better regulated in the UK – that’s not hard – and that it would be well regulated enough to minimise threats to public health. Not down to zero but everything has some risk.

I am confident that the risks from fracking are low enough to be worth taking.

However, it must be very heavily monitored. … If when there are some well operational, if the evidence shows that the impact is much greater than anticipated then people like me should be prepared to say ‘ok, the evidence suggests that we have to stop.’

As well as evidence-based policy-making – we don’t see much of it but we hear a lot of talk about it –  there needs to be evidence-based campaigning and at the moment campaigning is not sufficiently in this area evidence-based.

Other comments

Evidence-based campaigning

Point raised by Kathryn McWhirter, anti-fracking campaigner, to Stephen Tindale

I think you misjudge your opposition. I think campaigning is very scientific and evidence based. You really don’t know what you’re up against. Have you not seen research by University College London shows that shale gas can’t be seen as a bridging fuel? The consensus on fugitive methane in the US is that it makes it worse than coal. Anything over 3% makes gas worse than coal.

Stephen Tindale’s reply

Fugitive emissions are the major climate threat from fracking and the Committee on Climate Change had recommendations, particularly on what you need to do to cap wells when they are closed down.

Debt and doubt

Ken Cronin, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, to Peter Strachan

On your comment on the industry being debt-laden, I think you could make an argument about renewables or new nuclear. You could, if you wanted, create that argument for many industries. I have campaigned against polarising the debate. I come very much from the view point that we need more energy.

‘Beyond any doubt’ that is very, very strong language and I was wondering if you could find another industry or industrial activity that you could pin point that you could say risks and hazards are beyond any doubt.”

Peter Strachan’s reply

The First Minister of Scotland made the statement. I think the person you wold need to ask that question to would be the First Minister directly.

You can look at the pros and the cons of many different industries. On every occasion, I would argue for a 100% renewable energy future. We are already seeing the development for example in Norway where they have said by 2025 they will have electric only cars.

The evidence is clear, Shale gas is a dirty fuel. There are significant harmful effects to the environment, communities and public health if you look at the peer-reviewed literature.

Offshore fracking

Graham Dean, Reach Exploration, to Peter Strachan

In the last five years, I think about 15 wells have been fracked in the Scottish sector of the North Sea. Is it right to frack in the North Sea?

Peter Strachan’s reply

The whole environment onshore and offshore are completely different. The public health and environment issues offshore are completely different to onshore. I don’t think under any circumstances should we be looking to do this onshore.

Onshore, the shale industry in the US is effectively a boom-bust debt ridden industry. The North Sea industry has been in existence for 50 years. The North Sea will be in production for another 30-50 years.

* In November 2015 the then Chancellor, George Osborne, cancelled a £1bn pilot CCS project

Corrections and clarifications

Updated to correct Stephen Tindale’s name.

On 2/12/2016, a PR officer for INEOS contacted DrillOrDrop to say:

“I have been made aware that Prof Strachan receives significant research funding from the renewable sector.  We have no issue with that at all, however I do feel that in the interests of balance this fact should be noted in your article on the APPG debate with Stephen Tindale.”  

In response, Professor Strachan pointed out:

“Public research funding goes to the University. I take no personal payment.  I am a paid employee of the University. I work across oil and gas, and renewables and nuclear. I take no personal payments from renewable energy, oil or nuclear companies.”

50 replies »

  1. “Stephen Tindale said, “I have been arguing the climate, energy security and human rights case for UK shale gas since 2014, so am pleased to have this opportunity to advise INEOS shale on their approach. ”

    So will Stephen’s concern for human rights include employment rights? After all he did ask on Twitter this morning “Do the HR policies at @Qatargas allow workers to join a trade union?” (https://twitter.com/STindale/status/804060667296829441) so he is obviously very concerned about this type of issue.

    It would appear that he is taking money from a business that has denied its workers the right to strike in exchange for keeping the plant open.

    I do hope he will avoid any accusations of hypocrisy by immediately taking them publicly to task on this issue.

    I will watch with interest …. (doesn’t hold breath)

  2. Really odd that the Professor does not mention storage. There simply isnt any significant storage, and without that we have a choice. Power cuts all the time, as the wind slows, or use fossil fuels. As the late Prof David Mackay stated, anyone wanting to go 100% renewable, is ‘spectacularly deluded’ with current technology. only 2% of our current total energy usage comes from renewables. What about transport, and heating?
    People who think we can live off renewables should read this essential tome.

    • Really odd that Ken states categorically that “only 2% of our current total energy usage comes from renewables. What about transport, and heating?”

      and yet the DUKES 2016 report Chapter 6 states that:

      “Using the methodology set out in the Directive, provisional calculations show that 8.3 per cent of energy consumption in 2015 came from renewable sources; this is up from 7.1 per cent in 2014. There was a significant growth in the contribution of renewable electricity, while the renewable heating contributions also rose”

      He’ll be telling us that the sand used for fracking can be found on a beach, HCl isn’t toxic , and that they don’t permit re-injection next LOL

      – oh hang on …

    • I agree with Ken. 100% renewable is technically impossible because of intermittency. And with current price it is also economically suicidal. I felt sorry for UK shale gas because it has its good merits (as well as flaws but no form of energy is perfect) and it come up against very strong and well established players namely renewables and offshore oil and gas which have deep pocket backers from corporates and governments.

      • TW – I think we all get that we are going to be living with a mix for some time, but there is a clear and desirable trajectory which your friend Ken is doing his damnedest to misrepresent here (“only 2% of our current total energy usage comes from renewables. What about transport, and heating?”). That’s just his way, but don’t demean yourself by copying him.

        I think your point would be better expressed as “100% renewable is technically impossible using current technology because of intermittency.”

        Your suggestion that poor old UK shale gas is fighting with one hand behind its back because of commercial / government support for renewables / offshore is quite hilarious.

        I see the latest fracking echo chamber theme is now that opposition to fracking is led by the offshore industry. That’s an interesting development. I thought we were all bankrolled by Putin and the Qataris LOL.

        I suppose it demonstrates the fear that the frackers must have that the government might just decide offshore is less troublesome and more likely to generate short term tax revenues and return to supporting that, leaving shale and it’s backers high and dry. We can always hope I suppose 🙂

        • Refracktion. I think the government won’t throw offshore under the bus but if Scotland becomes independent and Brexit is triggered North Sea will be no longer under Whitehall controls but under Scottish Government amd so is England and Wales energy security. We should be considered lucky to even have the option to consider shale as an option. Most countries have not got this options and have to import their energy at the mercy or whimp of a foreign country. Ukraine came to mind in this scenario.

    • ‘Power cuts all the time, as the wind slows, or use fossil fuels’.

      Essential reading for those who nothing about renewable energy.

      Government stats on how renewables are constantly increasing

      Click to access Chapter_6_web.pdf

      What the experts say


      Suggest you reference the Inform, convince, excite sections Ken


      See the massive potential at

      Click to access 467ac5b8919.pdf

      All this renewable energy going on and still no ‘power cuts all the time’

      Really odd that people who know absolutely nothing about renewable energy post on this site.

      Quick quick the wind is dropping. All the lights are going to go off.

      Germany and Denmark spend most of the time in the dark didn’t you know.

      I presume Ken thinks that as the wind drops the lights get dimmer and dimmer until everything is becalmed therefore total darkness.

      I reference dimmer and dimmer for a very good reason

  3. The EU clearly supports gas going forward:


    “A benchmark of 550 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour will be introduced for new plants, in line with the European Investment Bank’s emissions performance standard. Existing plants will have to comply with the new limit by 2026.”

    But of course they understand that gas is needed for the several decades to come.

    • Paul. While the policy amd the article didn’t mention natural gas specifically the limit of 550g CO2 per kwh is clearly favour natural gas because it produces 450g comparing to coal 900g and oil/diesel 700g. So the only flexible backup for intermittently renewables is natural gas. With nuclear too expensive and take long time to build that pretty narrow down further the current options, natural gas. I don’t know why the Greens and Environmentalists oppose gas from CO2 reduction perspectives. Natural gas also release no other harmful gases such as nitric oxide or sulfur dioxide lead nitrate like coal or diesels.

  4. The current UK government is currently subsidising the fossil fuel industry more than any other G7 nation – billions per annum.

    With regards to shale – there is a reduced tax incentive. The government has spent several million pounds of tax payers money promoting the industry – this cost would normally come from industry.

    Two fracking colleges have been opened – again several million and before they even know if fracking will be viable – and when there have been budget cuts to other forms of secondary education.

    And don’t forget the work of the BGS – surveying huge areas of Yorkshire and Lancashire for baseline monitoring of water and seismic testing – again picked up by the tax payer.

    And how much is it worth to industry – to have a pro fracking government that slants the planning regime in favour of fracking and against onshore wind, a major competitor? Planning decisions being steamrollered through, even against the advice of a planning inspector must be worth many millions!

    Click to access 9977.pdf



    • OpenUni is also running worrying courses funded by frackers, possibly subsidised by tax, and which tells students amazing fairy stories about fracking impacts upon the environment. We no longer have rigorous academic standards in the Mickey mouse education industry.

      • Universities are now part of the ‘big business’ selling poor quality education packages and putting the youth of the future into massive debt aka economic slavery.

  5. Reducing a tax which is unilateral on an industry to a lower level which is still much higher than any other industry is classed as a subsidy? Why is this? Surely it is a reduced tax. Do you want the tax rates for oil and gas to increase? Can you do without oil and gas?

  6. Paul Tindale says fracking will be well regulated ”enough” does he mean enough to pay his mealy mouthed get rich quick salary, or enough to pollute and then allow frackers to run away to their tax havens before being made to pay the price, or does he mean enough to leave one square lie of pristine land for those who survive being gassed, poisoned or left without water suitable for drinking?

  7. I support Paul Tindale and agree with him that the green movement is ignoring the human rights arguments in favour of fracking for gas (for exampe the issue whether shale gas used in electricity generation isn’t as bad as coal) and overlooking the role that gas supplies from onsore fracking (in addition to offshore fracking) will have in reducing emissions.
    Unfortunatly there isn’t a social licence at the moment, but I have no doubt that once people see for themselves that the green movement have been making exaggerated claims about the impacts of fracking and see the benefits of it, where it is being currently done on a commercial scale in the U.K (mainly in Lancashire and North Yorkshire at the moment) then there should be enough public support for there to be a social licenece for it .

  8. A very valid point that not all fossil fuels are created equal – and I agree with the commenter who said we are going to have to live with a combination for at least the foreseeable future

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s