1. Executive Summary
1. There are potentially significant reserves of shale gas and oil and coal bed methane in Scotland, particularly in the central belt. However, accessing these resources would require the use of technologies such as hydraulic fracturing (commonly referred to as 'fracking') and dewatering. Questions and concerns have been voiced by some about the possible environmental, health, social and economic implications of developing an unconventional oil and gas industry, and about whether the development of such an industry would be compatible with Scotland's ambitious climate change targets. However, others have pointed to the potential benefits of unconventional oil and gas – for the Scottish economy (and therefore for investment in a wide range of environmental and social benefits) and for energy security.
2. To date, the Scottish Government has taken what it describes as 'a cautious and evidence-led approach' to exploring the opportunities, benefits, risks and challenges as it considers the future of a possible unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland. This approach has involved a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland since January 2015, the establishment of an Independent Expert Scientific Panel to examine the issue, and the commissioning of a number of research studies to investigate the evidence on potential impacts.
3. As part of the process of encouraging discussion and public participation in decision making, the Government also undertook a public consultation, Talking 'Fracking': A Consultation on Unconventional Oil and Gas, which ran from 31 January to 31 May 2017. The consultation paper presented a summary of findings from the commissioned studies, and contained ten open questions inviting views about the potential social, economic and environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas.
About the consultation responses
4. The consultation received 60,535 responses which were included in the analysis. These comprised:
- 21,077 standard campaign responses (35%) – i.e. responses based on a standard text provided by the campaign organiser
- 31,033 petition signatories (51%) – comprising an initial petition statement, followed by a list of signatories
- 8,425 substantive responses (14%) – i.e. responses drafted by respondents using their own words, or non-standard campaign responses (standard campaign responses which have been edited or personalised through the addition of extra text).
Respondent types (substantive responses only)
5. Substantive responses were submitted by 8,239 individuals and 186 organisations / groups. Among the latter, one-third were from community councils and other community groups. Organisational responses were also received from third sector or non-governmental organisations; private sector / industry bodies; public sector organisations; a range of professional bodies, membership organisations and trade unions; faith groups; and academic or research organisations. Among the respondents who submitted substantive responses and who provided postal addresses, 88% were from Scotland. In addition, of the respondents with Scottish addresses who provided a postcode, two-thirds (66%) lived in areas identified as potentially having significant reserves of shale oil / gas or coal bed methane.
Overview of responses
6. As noted above, 86% of the responses to this consultation took the form of standard campaign responses or petitions. In all of these, the respondents explicitly called for fracking to be permanently banned in Scotland.
7. The remaining 14% (8,425) of responses were substantive responses. Within this group, with few exceptions, respondents made their views clear about fracking and / or the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland, and the overwhelming majority expressed views that were opposed.
8. Among organisations, there was near unanimous opposition to fracking among community councils and other community groups, third sector and non-governmental organisations, faith groups, political parties and other activist groups. In addition, a majority of private sector organisations (including all those in the food and drink sector), some public sector organisations (including some local authorities), and a majority of academic / research organisations expressed strong reservations or serious concerns about the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland, even if they did not call for an outright ban on fracking.
9. Fewer than 5% of those who submitted substantive responses (and fewer than 1% of respondents overall) expressed a different view on this issue. In the main, these other views came from:
- Organisational respondents in specific sectors – mainly the oil and gas and petrochemical industries, and related professional, membership or trade organisations – and a small number of individual respondents, all of whom were largely supportive of the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland
- Organisational respondents from public sector organisations and regulatory bodies, who either did not express a view, or thought that it was not possible to come to a view based on the available evidence. This latter group also included a small number of individual respondents.
Views opposed to fracking and / or an unconventional oil and gas industry
10. As has been set out above, the overwhelming majority of respondents were opposed to fracking or the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland. Across all consultation questions, these respondents:
- Repeatedly emphasised the potential for significant and long-lasting negative impacts on communities, health, environment and climate
- Expressed scepticism about the ability of regulation to mitigate negative impacts
- Were unconvinced about the value of any economic benefit and the contribution of unconventional oil and gas to Scotland's energy mix, believing that any benefits would be relatively short-lived and far outweighed by the risks presented by the industry.
Views in favour of the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry
11. As noted above (paragraph 9), a small number of respondents expressed positive views about the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland. Across all consultation questions, these respondents:
- Emphasised the benefits for the economy, for communities, for the climate, and for Scotland's energy supply
- Thought that the positive impacts outweighed the risks and that, in any case, the risks associated with unconventional oil and gas extraction were no greater than the risks associated with any other industry
- Argued that the development of a strong and robust regulatory framework could mitigate any adverse impacts.
Views neither for nor against unconventional oil and gas
12. Among the small number of respondents who did not express a specific view either for or against the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry, there were three groups: (i) some thought that it was not possible to make an informed decision on whether to develop an unconventional oil and gas industry given the gaps in the current evidence base; (ii) others discussed both the positive and negative impacts of the industry without making clear what their own view was; and (iii) a third group did not state a view, but instead discussed the implications for the remit of their own organisation if an unconventional oil and gas industry were developed.
Views on the overall benefits and risks of unconventional oil and gas
13. In terms of the overall benefits of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland, the predominant view, held by the vast majority of respondents, was that there would be no benefit or no NET benefit to the people of Scotland. The alternative view, expressed by a small number of respondents, was that there would be benefits; those identified most often related to the economy and more specifically to increased employment with consequential benefits in terms of wealth, prosperity and investment.
14. In terms of the overall risks or challenges, the predominant view was that the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland would carry substantial risks – to health and wellbeing, to communities, to the environment, and to the economy. These risks were generally seen to be long-term and irreversible, and in most cases respondents did not think that any type of regulatory framework would be able to adequately manage the risks or prevent accidents and incidents. This group also highlighted the possible risk of a loss of faith in government and the political process if a decision was taken to establish an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland.
15. The alternative view, expressed by a small number of respondents was that all industrial activities have risks – particularly if they are located in areas of high population density. However, the risks of an unconventional oil and gas industry were seen to be minimal and manageable, and Scotland's regulatory regime was considered to be well equipped to deal with these. Respondents with these views thought that Scotland should not miss the opportunity presented by the industry. However, they thought that addressing perceived misinformation and building public confidence in the industry would be major challenges.