Scottish Fracking Consultation

This page gives guidelines on how to respond to the Scottish consultation on their current position on fracking and other forms of unconventional oil and gas production. Anyone in the UK can respond to this consultation, and the deadline is Tuesday 18th December.

What’s this consultation about? I thought Scotland had already banned fracking.

Not exactly. The Scottish government currently have a moratorium on fracking and other forms of unconventional oil and gas (UOG). However, this is not currently a permanent ban and the Scottish government are currently ‘finalising their position’. The consultation invites comments on the predicted impacts of the policy on the environment and business, and also allows people to comment on what would happen if fracking were allowed to take place.

Didn’t they already have a consultation on this last year?

Yes, they certainly did, and it received over 60,000 responses, with over 99% opposing fracking. In October 2017, the Scottish parliament voted in favour of the Scottish government’s preferred position to not support unconventional oil and gas, which you can read about here. However, for this to be finalised the policy requires a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and a business and regulatory impact assessment (BRIA). Both of these have now been completed and are the subject of the current consultation. You can read more about the background on Drill or Drop.

And do you have to live in Scotland to respond to this?

No, anyone in the UK is allowed to respond to the consultation. What happens in Scotland will have an impact on the rest of the UK, and of course climate change affects everyone.

What should be the main thrust of my response?

However much or little you write, we recommend that you make it clear that you support the Scottish government’s Preferred Policy Position to oppose fracking and other forms of unconventional gas exploitation. If all you do is state this in the first box and add a few more comments, this is still very helpful.

OK, I’m in. Where do I start?

You can read the introduction to the consultation here, and this leads into the online consultation itself, which you can access and complete by clicking here.

As you’ll see, at the top of the consultation there are links to the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) and a business and regulatory impact assessment (BRIA).

The 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 also said that 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 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.. It also said that 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 BRIA also 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 made the point that 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. Which is something of an understatement, given the strength of opposition in Scotland to fracking and other forms of UOG.

The first five questions in the consultation relate to the SEA, which you can read here. The main conclusions are on pages 3-13 if you don’t want to read through the whole thing. Here are the consultation questions and some possible ways to answer.

1 What are your views on the accuracy and scope of the information used to describe the SEA environmental baseline set out in the Environmental Report? 

Experts who have reviewed the SEA feel that this has been done in a proper way, so we suggest a short answer here, along the following lines (as with all consultations, please put your ideas in your own words if possible).

  • I/We have no problems with the accuracy and scope of the information used to describe the SEA environmental baseline.
  • There appears to be no issues regarding the accuracy and scope of the information used to describe the SEA environmental baseline.

Hey, this one’s easy! What’s the next question?

2 What are your views on the predicted environmental effects as set out in the Environmental Report? 

The 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.”

So, you can respond as follows:

  • I fully support the SEA’s conclusions on the negative environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland, which stated that this could cause 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. If anything, the conclusions do not go far enough in describing the damaging impact that this industry could have on the environment.
  • I fully support the preferred policy position, which would avoid the negative impacts unconventional oil and gas would have on the environment, water, air quality and human health.
  • Since the SEA was published, the IPCC has issued a report saying that we need to drastically reduce fossil fuel use in the next 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change. This provides even more reason to support the SEA’s conclusion that the development of an OUG industry in Scotland would make achieving the Scottish government’s energy and climate change commitments even more challenging and would not promote its objectives in relation to decarbonising the economy.
  • The Welsh Government has restated its aim to move away from fossil fuels, and have concluded that “The continued extraction of fossil fuels will hinder progress towards achieving overall commitments to tackling climate change.” The Scottish government should follow suit and continue to oppose OUG developments.
  • The SEA highlights the impacts of fracking on human health, but does not go far enough in describing the impacts that air and water pollution, large increases in heavy traffic, noise and other negative impacts of the OUG industry would have on local populations.

You can of course go in to more detail on any of the above points – the important thing is to make it clear that you support the Preferred Policy Position (which is to oppose fracking).

3 What are your views on the ‘reasonable alternatives’ outlined in the Environmental Report? Please provide any other ‘reasonable alternatives’ which you think should be considered.

Here are some points you can make on the reasonable alternatives, which can be found on page 22-23 of the SEA.

  • I agree with the principle that any reasonable alternatives that the Scottish government is considering should take into account its commitment to decarbonise the energy system and tackle climate change. For this reason, the government is right to adapt its preferred policy position against developing an OUG industry in Scotland.
  • The study by the Committee on Climate Change states that any unconventionally produced oil and gas should replace conventionally produced hydrocarbons, rather than increase production. It is clear that the greenhouse gas emissions (both CO2 and methane) from a new OUG industry would make achieving this goal much more challenging, particularly as methane is 86 times more dangerous a greenhouse gas over a 20-year period.
  • It is also worth pointing out that INEOS, who hold a large number of exploration licences in Scotland, intend to use unconventional gas as a feedstock for its plastics manufacturing operations. This would mean that if INEOS were allowed to frack in Scotland, possibly to provide feedstock for its Grangemouth plant – which incidentally is already the largest greenhouse gas producer in Scotland – this would cause considerable climate impact without replacing any domestically produced conventional hydrocarbons.
  • The KPMG scenarios stated in the report clearly underestimate the number of wells that would be needed to develop an OUG industry, and in fact for fracking to make any impact on domestic production thousands of wells would be needed, with a very damaging knock-on effect on communities, the climate, the road system, wildlife and human health.

4 What are your views on the findings of the SEA and the proposals for mitigation and monitoring of the environmental effects set out in the Environmental Report?

The section on Mitigation starts on page 172 of the report, while the page on Monitoring can be found on page 178.

  • I agree with the assessment’s conclusion that allowing an UOG industry to develop in Scotland would result in potential significant negative impacts on the land, water, air and population, and that the only way to avoid these impacts would be to adopt the Preferred Policy Position of opposing unconventional oil and gas exploration and production in Scotland.
  • The long list of potential impacts and dangers associated with OUG production in the SEA make it very clear that any attempts to mitigate the damage this industry would do to the climate, communities and environment in Scotland would not be enough to reduce the amount of harm to anywhere near an acceptable level.
  • It has already been shown in England that a single test fracking site at Kirby Misperton, in Yorkshire, resulted in a significant rise of Nitrous Oxide pollutants in the area, and the air quality changed from rural to urban – and that was from just one site where fracking never actually took place. [see here for report]. Therefore it would seem impossible for this industry to establish the thousands of wells needed to make any significant impact on the country’s gas supplies without seriously compromising air quality – and therefore human health – in affected areas.
  • The impacts of seismicity only appear to have been considered with respect to human health and impact on the surface. However, Prof. Stuart Haszeldine, professor of geology at the University of Edinburgh, recently stated: “The practical significance is not whether these tremors are felt at the surface or not, but in the potential to damage the borehole, and the potential to create gas pathways from the shale towards larger faults, towards shallower aquifers, and to the surface.”
  • Furthermore, the government’s own former seismic advisor, Professor Peter Styles, has revealed that fracking companies have failed to use all available geological data when applying for planning permission, and that historical coal mining data has been overlooked or ignored. Professor Styles has also suggested that it would be prudent to take a precautionary position and remove former coal mining areas from fracking exploration licences because of the heightened risks of earthquakes [read more here]. There is known to be heavy faulting and historical mine workings in the Central Belt, which along with the lack of a comprehensive catalogue or a seismic monitoring network would make fracking in this area a highly risky business.
  • I note with concern that “Injection of the wastewater into an empty gas field” is identified as a potential mitigation measure against water contamination from produced and flowback water. There is no reference to the risk of induced seismicity as a result, despite the fact that the practice of re-injecting oil and gas industry waste fluids for disposal in the USA is responsible for a huge increase in earthquakes in states such as Oklahoma. Reinjection of waste water is not a feasible way to deal with this dangerous by-product of fracking, and should not be considered as a way to mitigate its production.

5 Do you have any views on the proposals contained within the Scottish Government’s preferred policy position statement? There is no need to restate views already expressed in relation to the Talking “Fracking” public consultation as these have been, and will continue to be, taken into account as we move towards finalising the Scottish Government’s policy position. 

The Talking Fracking consultation referred to in the above question is the one last year which resulted in 60,000 responses and the current position opposing fracking. Here is a brief answer to this question that you can use or adapt.

  • I fully support the Scottish Government’s preferred policy position (PPP) to oppose the UOG industry, and recommend that the policy should move towards finalisation.
  • I further support the proposal that this position is included in the next version of the National Planning Framework, and all future applications for unconventional oil and gas exploration
  • I would also urge the Scottish government to go further than this, and use its devolved powers to ban OUG outright, as currently the policy approach outlined in the PPP could be overturned by a future Scottish government without the approval of the Scottish parliament.

This box is also the place to add any further concerns you have on the impacts of fracking that you haven’t written elsewhere.

6 What are your views on the opportunities and challenges that each of the 3 options set out in the partial BRIA could have for businesses?

The options referred to are on p6 of the BRIA, which you can see here. Option one is the Preferred Policy Position – ie opposing UOG – option 2 is ‘business as usual’ and option 3 is setting up a pilot project to see what the impacts are. We are, of course, recommending option 1, so here’s a possible answer. Again, please rephrase if you can.

  • I am strongly in favour of option 1, which is the preferred policy position of opposing UOG. This would provide certainty for all interested parties, and be a huge relief for all those who are living with the threat that this industry might be allowed to industrialise the countryside and destroy communities in licence areas. However, proposals contained in the PPP do not currently provide certainty for these communities, but would allow the issue to be revisited by a future government, and the PPP to be overturned without the approval of Parliament. I therefore urge the Scottish Government to use its devolved powers over onshore oil and gas licensing to ban UOG outright.
  • There is no place for options 2 or 3 in Scotland’s drive towards decarbonising the economy and fighting climate change.

And that’s it! The rest of the form asks you to write your personal details, etc. And don’t forget to click send.

So is that the last consultation this year, then?

I wish. There is one more that we’ll get to soon… watch this space!