1. Introduction and background
1.1 Unconventional oil and gas extraction is a complex and contentious issue. 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 people about the possible environmental, health 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 for energy security.
1.2 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 an 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.
1.3 In relation to this topic, the Government has stated its commitment to evidence-led policy making, impartial information, open and informed dialogue, fair and balanced debate, transparency and encouraging wide participation. As part of the process of encouraging discussion and public participation in decision making, the Government undertook a public consultation, Talking 'Fracking': A Consultation on Unconventional Oil and Gas, to gather the views of the people of Scotland on this topic. The consultation ran for a four-month period from 31 January to 31 May 2017.
1.4 The Scottish Government aims to put recommendations to Parliament on the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland and to reach a final decision on the issue by the end of 2017. The findings from the consultation will form an important part of the evidence considered by the Government in reaching its view.
The Talking 'Fracking' consultation
1.5 The consultation paper provided a description of: (i) how unconventional oil and gas extraction is carried out; (ii) the current regulatory framework; and (iii) the anticipated uses for the products of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland. The paper also presented and discussed the research commissioned by the Government to support decision making and included the Scottish Government's own observations about the broader evidence base.
1.6 In line with its stated commitment to encouraging public participation in the debate on unconventional oil and gas, the Scottish Government took a number of steps to make information about the consultation widely available. This included setting up a dedicated website, Talking Fracking, to provide further information about unconventional oil and gas in an easily accessible format. The website included a link to the Scottish Government's consultation hub where the consultation paper and online response form could be accessed.
1.7 A discussion pack was also created to help support group discussions in local communities and this was available for download from the Talking Fracking website. The discussion pack contained a set of slides presenting information about unconventional oil and gas and the findings from the independent research commissioned by the Scottish Government (including notes for the presenter); hand-outs providing additional information to support the discussion; and guidance on planning, managing and recording the discussions.
1.8 Finally, an easy-read version of the consultation paper was also made available.
1.9 The consultation itself contained ten open questions inviting views on a range of social, economic and environmental considerations. The questions were as follows:
- Question 1: What are your views on the potential social, community and health impacts of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland?
- Question 2: What are your views on the community benefit schemes that could apply, were an unconventional oil and gas industry to be developed in Scotland?
- Question 3: What are your views on the potential impact of unconventional oil and gas industry on Scotland's economy and manufacturing sector?
- Question 4: What are your views on the potential role of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland's energy mix?
- Question 5: What are your views on the potential environmental impacts of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland?
- Question 6: What are your views on the potential climate change impacts of unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland?
- Question 7: What are your views on the regulatory framework that would apply to an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland?
- Question 8: Overall, and in light of the available evidence, what do you think would be the main benefits, if any, of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland?
- Question 9: Overall, and in light of the available evidence, what do you think would be the main risks or challenges, if any, of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland?
- Question 10: If you have any other comments on the issues discussed in this consultation, please provide them here.
1.10 There were no closed (tick-box) questions in the consultation.
1.11 The group discussion pack (described in paragraph 1.7 above) contained a shortened version of the consultation questionnaire, focusing on Questions 8, 9 and 10. Responses to this questionnaire could be submitted online, by email or by post.
About the analysis
1.12 As will be seen in Chapter 2, this consultation attracted a very large number of responses. It is important to bear in mind, however, that by their very nature, public consultations are not necessarily representative of the views of the wider population. Anyone can submit their views, and individuals (and organisations) who have a keen interest in a topic – and the capacity to respond – are more likely to participate in a consultation than those who do not. This self-selection means that the views of consultation participants cannot be generalised to the wider population.
1.13 For this reason, the approach to consultation analysis tends to be qualitative in nature. Its main purpose is not to identify how many people held particular views, but rather to understand the full range of views expressed.
1.14 This particular consultation had only open questions – i.e. there were no tick-boxes – so the analysis of the responses is almost entirely qualitative. However, basic frequency analysis has been carried out to report the numbers and types of responses received, and to describe the characteristics of the people, organisations and groups who gave their views. These descriptive statistics are presented in Chapter 2 of this report. In addition, Chapter 3 gives an overview of the responses and includes information about the balance of opinion among respondents. This contextual information helps ensure that the main findings of the consultation (set out in Chapters 4–13) can be correctly interpreted and understood.
1.15 However, the main aim of the analysis was to identify and explore areas of agreement and disagreement between different groups of respondents, and to understand the reasons people gave for their views. Thus, in this report, the amount of space given to discussion of the various views expressed is not an indication of the prevalence of those views. At the same time, though, it will be made clear which views were predominant and which were less commonly held.
1.16 Respondents' views on particular issues were often closely interlinked with their views on other issues. For example, concerns about water supplies and land degradation were discussed as community impacts (Question 1) and environmental impacts (Question 5), and house prices, jobs and wages were discussed as community impacts (Question 1) and economic impacts (Question 3). In reporting the findings of the analysis, these linkages are acknowledged, but as much as possible the report attempts to avoid repetition by discussing respondents' views on particular issues only once.
1.17 Finally, it should be noted that many of the responses to this consultation (especially – but not limited to – submissions from organisations) contained a large amount of technical information and lists of references to other published and unpublished material. It is not possible in a report such as this to fully reflect the level of detail included in these responses.
1.18 Furthermore, evidence which was cited on each side of the debate about the unconventional oil and gas industry was often contested by other respondents. Respondents frequently challenged the evidence brought forward to support views contrary to their own, or suggested that the evidence base was not adequate to support the conclusions drawn by those who disagreed with their position. It is not the role of this report to adjudicate on these differences; rather such comments have simply been noted where appropriate.