The section summarises Scottish Government observations on the evidence-base and outlines actions taken on unconventional oil and gas by other countries or jurisdictions.
Scottish Government observations on the evidence
The Scottish Government is committed to presenting impartial information, without passing judgement on that evidence or the industry, so that you can openly explore the issues, and present your views to the Scottish Government.
As such, this consultation does not set out or advocate a preferred Scottish Government position on unconventional oil and gas.
To aid consideration of the future of this industry, the Scottish Government has highlighted throughout this document key aspects of the evidence on unconventional oil and gas that we believe are important. A summary of these observations is presented below.
Community considerations (PDF pages 32 to 37)
- Correspondence received by the Scottish Government highlights the depth of concern many communities and individuals feel toward unconventional oil and gas.
- Our evidence-led approach has provided new and important sources of information on potential benefits and risks, and the safeguards in place to manage those risks.
- Proposed development sites would be located across Scotland's heavily-populated central belt, and the Scottish Government is committed to involving people in the decisions that affect them and to making information and data accessible.
- There are gaps in the evidence-base on health impacts, and in view of that we acknowledge the precautionary approach outlined by Health Protection Scotland. This should be proportionate to the scale of the hazards and potential health impacts, both adverse and beneficial.
- While this period of consultation and deliberation takes place, Health Protection Scotland will monitor new health studies (domestic and international) and keep the evidence-base under continuous review to ensure their assessment of health impacts reflects the current state of knowledge.
Economic considerations (PDF pages 38 to 45)
- The amount of unconventional oil and gas that could be economically or technically recovered in Scotland is not known. Further exploratory work (including core sampling) would be required to better understand the resources that could be commercially exploited.
- The total economic impact of unconventional oil and gas is estimated to be relatively low, and isn't comparable to the current offshore industry in Scotland.
- An unconventional oil and gas sector in Scotland could provide a cost effective gas supply for local energy networks, and increase security of supply, particularly for high energy use industries.
- However, as the scale of production in Scotland would be relatively low in comparison to European or international gas production, it would be unlikely to have an impact on global gas supply prices, and therefore on consumer energy costs.
- Scotland's petrochemical sector is a major employer and contributor to Scotland's economy. In response to declining domestic sources of natural gas liquids, imported ethane is enabling the petrochemicals sector to significantly expand production. An unconventional oil and gas sector in Scotland could provide important benefits to Scotland's petrochemical sector.
Potential environmental implications (PDF pages 46 to 53)
- An unconventional oil and gas sector in Scotland is likely to have a broadly neutral impact on global greenhouse gas emissions
if it is tightly regulated.
- However, within the context of Scotland's climate change legislation, an unconventional oil and gas industry would create challenges in meeting Scotland's ambitious and world leading climate change targets.
- In respect to environmental regulation, the research project findings are broadly consistent with the findings of the Independent Expert Scientific Panel, which concluded that 'The regulatory framework is largely in place to control the potential environmental impacts of the production of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, although there may be gaps to address'.
- The study examining seismicity concludes that the risk of felt earthquakes from unconventional oil and gas developments is low. However, where disposal of wastewater by reinjection into a hydraulically fractured well has been permitted in North America, there is evidence it has increased the risk of earthquakes. We note that this form of wastewater disposal is not a practice that has been proposed by industry in the UK.
- We are committed to undertaking all relevant statutory assessments in coming to a final position on unconventional oil and gas, including undertaking a Strategic Environmental Assessment, which would be required regardless of the form of our final decision.
- The regulators are confident that the research we have commissioned has provided a clear analysis of where regulation could be strengthened in key areas.
Examples of action taken by others
In response to their own evidence and circumstances, other countries or jurisdictions have taken a range of positions on unconventional oil and gas.
Some countries or jurisdictions, notably France, Bulgaria, and Victoria (Australia), have instituted indefinite bans on unconventional oil and gas developments on the basis of environmental concerns. In North America, a number of counties and some states move moved toward banning hydraulic fracturing for shale.
Other countries or jurisdictions, including New York State, Nova Scotia and Holland have invoked moratoriums or advised not proceeding until further evidence becomes available. Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Wales have all introduced some form of moratorium or position to allow further evidence to be collated and considered.
In 2013, the German Advisory Council on the Environment published a review into hydraulic fracturing, and recommended that, in view of 'serious knowledge gaps' hydraulic fracturing should not be used for commercial production of shale gas.
The Council acknowledged, however, that the evidence base relating to the local German context could be improved by permitting pilot projects with subsequent systematic interpretation of (openly available) data on the environmental impact of permitted activities. This option was also advocated as a possible means of enabling engagement with local communities in the evidence evaluation process. In 2016, the German Government moved to ban hydraulic fracturing for shale gas for an indefinite period, but with some exceptions for pilot or scientific studies.
England, a number of states (or provinces) in North America, Australia and Canada, and some other European countries (notably Poland) have actively promoted unconventional oil and gas developments through policy or fiscal incentives. The main commercial unconventional oil and gas developments are in Australia and North America.
Around 10% of Australia's gas production is exploited through coal bed methane or similar technologies. By 2015 the number of hydraulically-fractured wells in the United States reached 300,000, producing around two-thirds of US natural gas  .
A number of US states have used buffer zones to control where development can take place in the vicinity of water supplies and surface water. The size of buffer zones varies considerably between states. For example, Ohio requires a 50-foot setback for streams, while Pennsylvania requires a 300-foot setback.
A choice for Scotland
The Scottish Government has maintained a cautious and evidence-led approach to unconventional oil and gas.
It is the job of government to base decisions on evidence - including scientific, expert opinion and views of the public - and to seek a collective way forward.
We believe that the research we have commissioned and presented provides a strong basis upon which to consider and debate the future of unconventional oil and gas in our country.
Some will conclude that the research shows the economic impact is low and the risks and costs associated with mitigating climate change impacts are too great, where others may argue that the risks can be managed and that gas is an important part of the low-carbon transition or that the potential economic gain cannot be ignored. We want to hear all views, whether in favour or in opposition.
As outlined earlier, a variety of options are available to the Scottish Government to guide or determine the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.
Once the consultation closes and the results have been independently analysed and published we will make our recommendation on the future of unconventional oil and gas to
the Scottish Parliament. We will then ask the members of the Scottish Parliament to vote on our recommendation, and then the Scottish Government will make their decision.
This document has set out a range of evidence available to Scottish Ministers to guide or determine the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.
Q8: 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?
Q9: 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?
Q10: If you have any other comments on the issues discussed in this consultation, please provide them here.
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