UK fracking policy based on “outdated” reports but Scottish review is “model for the world” – academics

171216 KM Eddie Thornton

Fracking equipment at Third Energy’s Kirby Misperton site in December 2017. Photo: Eddie Thornton

A new report has praised the Scottish government’s review of fracking while criticising the UK government’s approach to the issue.

Two academics from the University of Stirling, described the Scottish review as:

“the first truly national assessment of the public health and related implications of Unconventional Oil and Gas Exploration”

Writing in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, they said:

“Rarely have governments brought together relatively detailed assessments of direct and indirect public health risks associated with fracking and weighed these against potential benefits to inform a national debate on whether to pursue this energy route.

“The Scottish government has now done so in a wide-ranging consultation underpinned by a variety of reports on unconventional gas extraction including fracking.”

Following the review, the Scottish Government announced in October 2017 it would not support the development of unconventional gas and oil developments, including fracking. The decision was backed three weeks later by the Scottish parliament. A strategic environment assessment of the new policy is now underway.

The UK’s largest shale licence holder, INEOS Upstream, has won the right to challenge the Scottish Government’s decision in the courts. INEOS said it believed there were very serious errors within the decision-making process, including a failure to adhere to proper statutory process and a misuse of Ministerial power.

But the authors of the report, published yesterday, said the Scottish government review of fracking might provide a model for other governments to use elsewhere in the world.

Professor Andrew Watterson, of Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, and Dr William Dinan, of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, compared the Scottish Government’s approach with 13 other assessments carried out by governments in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia and UK.

They praised the Scottish review process for the high level of public engagement. There were more than 60,000 responses to a public consultation. They also commended the time spent on the review and the resources made available to collect a wide range of information.

In contrast, they described the Royal Society review of fracking, carried out in 2013 for the UK government, as “somewhat dated”, with its authors lacking expertise in public health and scrutinising industry practice.

They also criticised the Public Health England report (2014) for its limited scope and for focusing on theoretical best practices and regulations, rather than what actually happened.

Both these reports have been used repeatedly by UK ministers and the industry as evidence that fracking could be carried out safely.

The Stirling authors said:

“Given ongoing protests, planning objections and legal appeals in parts of England where fracking is proposed it is clear that effective public engagement is lacking and there is no ‘social license’ to frack”.

They concluded:

“Informing policy and decision making with the latest evidence is clearly a significant issue. We believe that lessons can be drawn from the Scottish case on how to meet these challenges”

The Scottish energy academic, Professor Peter Strachan, said of the Stirling study:

“What I found particularly revealing is that the UK case for fracking is based entirely on outdated reports and arguments.”

Campaigners against fracking in England have called on Public Health England to update its report. At  the time of writing, a 38 Degrees petition had collected more than 6,000 signatures. The promoter of the petition said:

“The report was narrow in its contents and missed out some significant health evidence that indicated hydraulic fracturing impacted upon public health.

“Since that report, hundreds of other health reports have been published with critical evidence that now needs to be taken into account before any shale activity should proceed within the UK.”

29 replies »

  1. Agreed. Our government is averse to doing the necessary homework. Why not simply adopt the Scottish model? Job done.

    • Because Phillip P, by adopting the Scottish model they would have to admit they were and still are wrong; not something this governance will do anytime soon.

    • You’re kidding right? The world is supposed to take its cues from a professor of Sport and another professor of Humanities? I didn’t see in their review any reference to the fact that the Scottish government’s scientific panel had recommended that fracking could go ahead under careful regulation. Where was that mention I wonder? I also didn’t see any mention that Scotland is only able to become as “Green” as it apparently has thanks to interconnects with Britain that allow it to benefit from fossil fuel energy whenever the wind isn’t blowing just right. None of this was to be found in the new “report” from the Sport professor or the Humanities teacher. I do wonder why!

      • Professor Andrew Watteson is professor of Health Effectiveness in Health Sciences and Dr William Dinan is a lecturer in the Communications, Media and Culture Department.
        The peer-reviewed article is published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

        Apologies that in a short piece, we were unable to mention everything covered in the original report. This does indeed mention the Scottish government’s scientific panel and its verdict, noting that the panel’s “specialist knowledge largely related to geosciences, engineering, and resource extraction” rather than health issues (the primary interest of this article).

        It also remarks that

        “The idea that scientists had proclaimed fracking “safe” for Scotland gained some traction and was repeated at every opportunity by industry. However, the terms of reference of that expert panel were to review the environmental and regulatory issues arising from UOGE development, a rather narrower brief than pronouncing on the safety or desirability of such development.
        While acknowledging there might have been gaps to address and more evidence was needed on effects of UOGE, nevertheless it concluded Scotland had the regulatory framework to control UOGE impacts. The panel did not have any public health or legal specialist members, contained no independent expert on industry practice and its final conclusions were challenged by communities and some academics”

        * UOGE = Unconventional Oil and Gas Exploration

        We always aim to provide a link to the original report – see the top of this article

        • So, Paul, we are supposed to rely on a Professor of Health Sciences who has no specialty in unconventional gas extraction, rather than believe those who have expertise in that specific area? Studies that have incorporated public health expertise with scientific expertise have concluded the same thing as the Scottish Scientific Panel. Then you have all of the empirical data showing the massive public health benefits that have accrued to the population from fracking. Alas, some people will never learn!

          • “massive public health benefits that have accrued to the population from fracking” ???!!! poor EKT …”Alas, some people will never learn” (so true). I guess you’re referring to the closure of heavily polluting coal fired stations – the only possible way of making of any such argument… doesn’t apply here.

  2. I suggest they are averse to doing the necessary homework because they know what the outcome would be. They’d have to admit that their ‘dash for gas’ has no place in a worldwide move towards reducing harmful climate changing emissions. But of course, politicians are never ever wrong, are they! And if they are wrong, then my previous sentence applies.

    • It’s the same with Hinkley Point; they’ve cocked up and the general populous are going to pay, again. This governance are incapable of putting their hand up and admitting they are wrong and as a consequence, we the people are suffering. They are not fit for purpose – send them back! [Unfortunately they are not recyclable].

  3. Scotland is not a country anyone wants to mimic. Stagnant growth, deprived areas growing consistently, largest welfare budget in the world per head of population. I know I live there and as far as I know there are no other Scots actively living there on this blog.
    The ‘academics’ opinions are pathetic, they live in a bubble and have never left the safety of education. As you’ll all be aware academics are vastly left wing in political attitude and believe in outdated ideology of socialism ie communism.
    If I were the SNP I’d probably keep my head down as a party as they are an embarrassment to Scots that are actually intelligent.

    • Love Scotland. How about leaving the bubble of your beliefs GBK (which we all know about already)? Do you have anything intelligent to say about the review?

  4. Just a review ahead of the Ineos challenge to try and influence the decision. Will that do PhilipP? I believe another Scottish “academic” did the same regarding an oil well down south recently, with an SNP MP asking questions about the Weald at the same time. All a co-incidence?

    A deal with the Greens will throw up such manoeuvers-until the costs are evident to the Scottish voters.

    You will not see that from within your bubble of your beliefs, but reality over fantasy is not the antis preferred mindset.

  5. Ok, reality. No fracking in the UK since 2011. An indefinite moratorium in Scotland. Its banned in Ireland, France and many other placed. Its on hold in Yorkshire, repeatedly delayed in Lancashire. No big oil or gas companies are interested. Tory MPs starting to oppose applications. All opposition parties with seats at Westminster oppose fracking. All district and parish councils locally in Ryedale who have commented have opposed fracking.

  6. Reality Ian. Test fracking is authorised by the current Government in England. That Government are likely to be in power for at least the next four years during which period test fracking will occur. (Three will be ready shortly, with more underway. It only needs one to be successful, and the media will energise public opinion-many who will have recently experienced the costs of the Beast from the East and had notification of electricity/gas price increases,- and the Government will make noisy capital out of sticking with their support whilst others did not.) Ruth Davidson will be licking her lips in anticipation!
    Stamping of feet and howling in protest by a few in the meantime will not change that, merely will keep the rest of the few interested. (Although 10% down last time round may be showing even that is not working.)

    • Oh dear Martin.

      Didn’t quite work out like you prophesied!

      The industry you promote is now as dead as a Dodo!

      UK geological conditions and high profile activism have seen to that.

      Cuadrilla hanging on waiting for conclusion of the extended well testing at Preston New Road so Egan still getting paid. [Edited by moderator]

    • Well done Captain Manwaring (sorry, couldn’t resist). The Ingraffea talk should be mandatory viewing for any government trying to assume responsibility for a fracking roll-out. The narrow interests (such as those promoted by Martin et al) versus the unintended consequences are made very clear.

  7. Interesting that NHS Scotland in its report summary does not conclude that fracking should be banned in Scotland.

    I quote “If UOG development is permitted in Scotland in future, the evidence reviewed to date on
    UOG hazards, potential health impacts and wider health implications, although lacking in
    quantity, quality and consistency, would justify adopting a precautionary approach. This
    should be proportionate to the scale of the hazards and to the potential health impacts,
    both adverse and beneficial. It could be based on adopting a range of mitigation measures
    involving operational best practice, regulatory frameworks and community engagement. ”

    It also points out the lack of quantity, quality and consistency on potential impacts and wider health impacts. That is a very different approach than the alarmist approach made by some of the anti-frack campaigns.

    I also find that the Scottish Gov. is hypocritical in that it is not prepared to even attempt to explore for unconventionals in its own territory yet is happy to import them.

  8. Pretty poor attempt at an insult from someone who posts under a fictional name! Perhaps you could let us all know who you are refracktion, and your qualifications that might support what you post?

    Education is supported in most countries, although Pol Pot (and others) had different ideas. Good company you keep, and a rather insulting view of your “audience”.

    [Edited by moderator]

    • Just a quick reminder that DrillOrDrop welcomes comments from anyone and everyone with an interest in the issues around Onshore Oil and Gas Drilling in the UK – qualifications are not required!

    • Thanks for the link, clinch. Look forward to the data when available, shame it cannot go up this year, would be a shocking revelation to those who are ‘all out for shale’.

    • Clinch. I like The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). It’s a N. Amaerican NGO that acts positively to solve environmental issues – rather then the negative, adversarial, stunt-based NGO activity that we so often experience here in Europe. I have met EDF people several times, they work alongside industry etc to enable & improve environmental protection. See

      • For a less than rosy view of Environmental Defence Fund and their partnerships with industry, see Chapter 6 of “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein.

    • This is good news Clinch although, two things: 1/ the Europeans are going to beat them two it with two satellites soon to be launched (this year and next I believe) with methane (remote) sensing capabilities. 2/ As Paul notes – albeit with my interpretation (reading between the lines) and knowledge of some of Naomi Klein’s angles – I’d be a bit skeptical about how the powers that be in the USA will use political control to influence the way in which scientific findings are released for knowledge sharing… just as with the EPA which has is been neutered and is unable to report an anything that can be used with legal teeth against corporate vested interests. Climate Change has become a completely partisan issue unfortunately with the major looters and polluters controlling the agenda in America at least.

      Another thing is the time needed to calibrate the data to usefully (accurately) develop models and report findings. ‘Top down’ measurements are still in their infancy – as pioneered by Ingraffea and others. But at least there will be a few satellites that can be cross referenced in the near future. Who knows, the Republicans may also lose control soon (Paul Ryan is leaving), Trump may be indicted (more likely than impeachment), or he may get a heart transplant (metaphorical – ‘change of heart’) and science can get back to where it should be instead of having to battle the religion of anti-science and merchants of doubt that have toxified politics and public opinion lately.

    • Actually I see some hope if the EDF maintain control of the mission data. They’re being honest when pointing out “Only 3% of oil and gas companies currently report quantitative methane emissions”. Something I’ve noted before (without the metrics).

Add a comment

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s