People have three more weeks to give their views on the Scottish government’s policy not to support fracking.
A consultation invites comments on the predicted impacts of the policy on the environment and business. There is also an opportunity to comment on the effects if fracking were allowed to go ahead.
The final policy is expected to be finalised in spring 2019.
The Scottish government introduced a moratorium on fracking for shale oil and gas and coal bed methane in January 2105.
A four-month initial consultation in 2017 attracted more than 60,000 responses, the vast majority opposing fracking.
In October that year, the Scottish parliament voted in favour of the Scottish government’s preferred position to not support the development of unconventional oil and gas.
To be finalised, the policy requires a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and a business and regulatory impact assessment (BRIA). Both are the subject of the current consultation, which continues until 18 December.
The 304-page SEA concluded:
“Allowing unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland, could result in significant negative effects on the environment, even when taking account of existing regulation and consenting processes.”
It said there could be harm to air and water quality, climate factors, public health and safety, biodiversity, the setting of historic sites and the character and quality of landscapes.
The Scottish government’s policy to not support the industry would avoid these environmental impacts and any cumulative effects, the SEA said. It would result in significant positive environmental effects across all of the SEA topic areas.
The SEA also looked at the effects of a single pilot project. This would have much lower environmental impacts than the development of the industry but there was still potential for significant effects it said, depending on the location of the project site.
Measures to mitigate harm – such as monitoring, best practice techniques and carbon offsetting – would help to reduce the risk and severity of effects. But it was likely that environmental impacts would remain, the SEA said.
The assessment added:
“The Scottish Government considers the development of an onshore unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland would make achieving its energy and climate change commitments more challenging.
“Whilst acknowledging the important role of gas in the transition to a low carbon energy future, the addition of an onshore unconventional oil and gas industry would not promote our ability to meet our greenhouse gas emissions targets or objectives in relation to protecting and enhancing the environment”.
Impacts on economy, business and regulators
The BRIA concluded:
“The total economic impact of unconventional oil and gas is estimated to be relatively low, and is not comparable to the current offshore industry in Scotland.
“While an unconventional oil and gas sector in Scotland could provide important benefits to Scotland’s petrochemical sector and provide a cost-effective gas supply for local energy networks, and increase security of supply, particularly for high energy use industries, the scale of production in Scotland would be relatively low in comparison to European or international gas production and would be unlikely to have an impact on global gas supply prices, and therefore on consumer energy costs.”
The assessment said the Committee on Climate Change had warned that emissions from production of unconventional gas and oil would need to be offset through cuts in emissions elsewhere in the economy.
It also said communities, particularly those in areas where fracking was likely to take place, had yet to be convinced there was a strong enough case of national economic importance, when balanced against risk and disruption.
The Scottish government’s policy would provide certainty to industry and communities, the assessment said. It could improve investment opportunities in some sectors and could benefit the supply chain if the unconventional oil and gas sector targeted different resources.
On the costs of the policy, the assessment said the total cumulative spending in Scotland of the industry had been estimated at £2.2b up to 2062. The unconventional gas and oil industry had been estimated to add £1.2bn to the Scottish economy or 0.1% to Scottish GDP per year over the lifetime of the industry.
At its peak, the industry would support 1,400 jobs, including indirect posts, the assessment said. Cumulative additional tax would be 1.4bn to 2062. There could also be losses of fees, land rents and charges to some public bodies.
Allowing fracking to go ahead could provide feedstocks for chemicals and manufacturing, reducing costs and avoiding the need to import. But these benefits had not been quantified because of uncertainties, the assessment said. There was unlikely to be any impact on domestic or global energy prices.
A pilot project would increase understanding of the resource and its impacts but it would require funding by the project partners, the assessment said. Typical onshore exploration costs were £0.5m-7m and projects could take two years to plan.
Community councils, the most local tier of elected representatives in Scotland, are raising money to ensure their voice is heard in the consultation.
They are seeking £2,000 to pay Sir Crispin Agnew QC and Mothiur Rahman to make their case. Both lawyers represented Concerned Communities of Falkirk and nine Falkirk Community Councils at the public inquiry in 2014 into Dart Energy’s plans to drill for coalbed methane at Letham Moss, near Airth.
Maria Montinaro, of Concerned Communities of Falkirk, said:
“We feel it is important for Community Councils to not let go of the slack at these final stages where the draft “Strategic Environmental Assessment” (SEA) of the effective ban policy is now out to public consultation.
“Scottish communities still don’t have a legally robust ban on fracking that they can be confident will remain in place for the foreseeable future.”