is skirting the issue. When asked in April 2012 at First Ministers questions whether he had any concern about the environmental and climate implications of fracking, Alex Salmond responded:
“A number of concerns about fracking have been expressed, internationally and south of the border. The Scottish Government is well aware of the on-going research into the process. Many aspects of the recovery of difficult-to-recover hydrocarbons need to be examined very thoroughly in terms of environmental implications. When, and if, it comes to a planning decision by the Scottish Government, the member can be assured that environmental indications and evidence will be taken fully into account.”
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing stated that unconventional gas projects “have a strong regulatory, safety and environmental regime in place to ensure that potential risks to safety of the environment are properly managed.” Also seem keen to emphasize responsibility of UK Government in licensing.
Scottish Labour Party pushing for better regulation:
Claire Baker, Labour Shadow Environment Secretary (key opposition party, Dart have licenses in Claire’s Fife constituency) has written to all local authorities in licensed areas to establish how they regulate fracking. Has expressed strong concern about inconsistency between planning authorities, and highlighted loophole whereby companies can apply to SEPA for fracking licenses after planning permission and without consulting Council or communities. Raised questions about accountability and transparency, and calling for national guidelines to clarify the situation before we see a fracking free for all.“
Other Scottish Labour people expressing interest include: Claudia Beamish, deputy Environment spokesperson; Neil Findlay MSP; Sarah Boyack MSP; Elaine Murray MSP; John Park MSP; David Martin MEP; Tom Greatrix MP Shadow Environment spokesperson at Westminster has proposed guidelines.
Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy & Tourism Committee has looked into issue briefly as part of its inquiry into the Scottish Government Renewable Energy targets, due to report shortly.
Committee Convener Murdo Fraser (Con) wrote to Energy Minister as part of inquiry asking him to outline activity. Response gives us nothing we don’t already know.
SNP: MSPs likely to stick with Government line, although some inquiry from Joan McAlpine MSP (Parli Liaison Officer to FM). Chic Brodie MSP has voiced opposition to shale on grounds of potential water contamination from what he has learned on On Economy, Energy & Tourism Committee. Not sure if he has any influence. Aileen Campbell MSP expressed need for strict monitoring.
Lib Dems: not clear what party line is but Willie Rennie MSP, Party leader has written to Cab Sec and asked questions in Parliament.
Conservatives: sticking close to UK line – moratorium while DECC awaiting outcome of Lancashire investigation, however SEPA would ensure no fracking took place near sensitive water environments.
Scottish Green Party: very against unconventional gas as would expect. Patrick Havie MSP has asked questions in Parliament and Alison Johnstone lodged a motion (which sadly only a handful of MSPs signed).
SEPA have played down risks. Spokesperson quoted “I don’t associate the risks with fracking as being any more significant than a lot of other things we do….They are not high-risk operations provided they are done properly.”
SEPA are planning to issue clarified guidelines on regulatory framework for coalbed methane extraction and hydraulic fracturing.
Shale Gas activities
UNCONVENTIONAL GAS RESOURCE
The main resource in Scotland is coalbed methane, with deposits stretching across much of the Central Belt and Fife, as well as in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.
There is a large shale deposit in the Forth Valley known as the West Lothian and Black Metals Shale (much of which was crushed in the mid 19th century resulting in the birth of the modern oil industry!). It is unclear whether this deposit is being activity explored or tested yet for potential shale gas resource.
Licenses are issued by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. Next round is expected to be in early 2013, seems to be on hold pending outcome of investigation into Lancashire earth tremors.
Licenses operate in three stages: exploration (4/5 years); development (4/5 years); production (20 years).
Currently 6 onshore licenses, three of which are in or reaching the development phase. A further 2 could reach development phase soon. The final one does not appear to be being used for unconventional gas
Dart Energy is the main player in Scotland having bought out two other CBM companies (Composite and Greenpark). They now have 4 of the 6 current onshore licenses in Scotland, including PEDL 133 which contains a potentially large shale resource, as well as the most advanced CBM project in the UK.
The only other company with an active interest (and license) is REACH CSG.
The Weir Group is a Scottish company who also happen to be the world’s leading suppliers of a certain pump used in hydraulic fracturing. They have been doing the rounds in the media and getting a fairly high profile for themselves.
The most advanced project is operated by Dart Energy at Airth, in the Forth Valley. Dart have been using horizontal and vertical drilling techniques in a pilot CBM project produced its first electricity from the site earlier this year. Still in the testing stage, the project has 14 test wells already drilled. In September 2012 Dart submitted planning applications to Falkirk and Stirling Councils for 14 new wells and a network of pipelines to take the development to its commercial production phase. This second phase of the project will access less than 20% of the resource in the license area which Dart plan to exploit in coming years. Simple maths indicates that the area could see at least a further 50 wells if Dart’s plans succeed. As far as we know this is the first onshore unconventional gas development in the UK to be heading towards commercialisation.
The second most advanced project is also operated by Dart Energy, but seems to be on hold while they focus on Airth. This is at a Canonbie in Dumfries and Galloway, and while still in the testing stage, over 19 wells have been drilled. The Council requested an EIA for some (all?) of the relevant planning applications, but when Greenpark Energy (the company that held the license until Dart bought it out in winter 2011/12) applied to SEPA for fracking permits the Council told them there was no planning variation needed.
Reach Coal Seam Gas is hoping to develop CBM in North Lanarkshire, but recently withdrew a planning application for a development at Moodiesburn, following significant public opposition.
The main groups engaging with unconventional gas are FoES, our Stirling, Falkirk and Inverness local groups; Green Party Stirling and Canonbie local groups; Transition Stirling; People & Planet; Women’s Environmental Network; Frack Off Scotland; and Frack Off.
The cosmetics company LUSH have also engaged with the network and held an open day in their Stirling store, using resources created by Frack Off.
We have established an informal coalition with these groups and interested individuals, and we try to meet up every other month or so.
Current activity is focussed on resisting the immediate threat posed by Dart Energy’s plans to develop the first commercial CBM production in the UK at Airth. We have developed template objections and disseminated around our lists and to local groups.
Areas within Stirling, Falkirk and Dumfries & Galloway are the most likely to be interested in frack-free zones, but no clear indication of interest yet. FoES held a number of public meetings in the Airth area.
Other NGOs including RSPB Scotland and WWF have expressed an interest and developed position statements. The Stop Climate Chaos Scotland network has also expressed some interest.
RSPB and others may be willing to submit a joint objection to Dart’s Airth CBM plans particularly as the proposed outflow pipeline runs right through an RSPB reserve into the sensitive Firth of Forth.
FoES have built a new website with an online map at www.frackfreescotland.org.uk to act as a first stop shop for individuals, community groups and NGOs to find out more and take action.
FoES have also created a number of resources including briefings, frack free zone packs, an interactive prezi http://foe-scotland.org.uk/unconventionalgasprezi
Frack Off have also created a number of useful resources and maintain a very helpful website.
We badly need authoritative research and resources specifically on CBM as the media hype continues to focus on shale.
FoES hosted an e-action to MSPs and to MPs which got varied responses and has helped indicate the various party positions.
The Green Party are very supportive and local Stirling and Canonbie groups have been mobilising.
The Labour Party (main opposition) are also cautiously supportive.