Exploring the evidence
Our evidence-led approach
The Scottish Government has undertaken an extensive and comprehensive period of evidence-gathering that examines the issues, challenges and opportunities presented by unconventional oil and gas.
This work began in 2013 with the establishment of the Independent Expert Scientific Panel ('the Expert Panel') to investigate unconventional oil and gas. More information on the work of the Expert Panel can be found at: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2014/07/1758/0
A summary of the Expert Panel's remit and main findings is provided in Box 3.
After considering the Expert Panel's findings, the Scottish Government commissioned a series of research projects in 2016 to examine specific issues in more depth. Box 4 describes the steps that were taken to deliver impartial and robust evidence.
A number of the projects focused on issues identified by the Expert Panel, which included gaps in the framework for decommissioning, the role of Health Impact Assessments, and potential climate change implications.
The following research studies were commissioned in 2016:
- Economic impacts and scenario development (undertaken by KPMG)
- Climate Change impacts (undertaken by the Committee on Climate Change)
- Understanding and monitoring induced seismic activity (undertaken by the British Geological Survey)
- Transport - Understanding and mitigating community level impacts (undertaken by Ricardo)
- Decommissioning, site restoration and aftercare - obligations and treatment of financial liabilities (undertaken by AECOM)
- Health impact of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland (undertaken by Health Protection Scotland)
The research reports were published in full on 8 November 2016. The research reports can be read in full at: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Business-Industry/Energy/onshoreoilandgas/EvidenceGathering
The findings from these studies are summarised and considered in the proceeding sections under the following themes:
- Community considerations
- Economic considerations
- Environmental considerations.
Table 3: Summary of economic scenarios prepared by the economic study.
Coal bed methane
The research to examine economic impacts commissioned by the Scottish Government identified three potential unconventional oil and gas production scenarios in Scotland: high, central, and low. These scenarios informed the economic study and have been used or referred to in the other research studies.
The scenarios were based on estimates of potentially accessible oil and gas resources, and were informed by discussions with stakeholders, including those representing industry and environmental interests. Table 3 outlines the scenarios.
This consultation mainly discusses the central production scenario. Please refer to the economic study's final report for more information on the other scenarios.
Box 3: Independent expert scientific panel
The remit of the Expert Panel was to deliver:
- a robust, well-researched evidence base relating to unconventional oil and gas upon which the Scottish Government can reliably base future policy in this area;
- a well-developed narrative on the environmental and regulatory issues associated with the potential development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland;
- an assessment of the potential resources available to Scotland.
The Expert Panel made a number of observations, including:
- Suitable petrochemical feedstocks from the North Sea are declining, in particular ethane and other light hydrocarbons. The potential availability of these feedstocks from unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland could have a beneficial impact on Scotland's petrochemical industry in the long term.
- Although further exploratory drilling will be required, Scotland's geology suggests that there could be significant reserves of unconventional oil and gas - the greatest potential reserves are likely to be in the Midland Valley of Scotland.
- There are a number of technical challenges associated with unconventional oil and gas extraction, though it is the Expert Panel's view that none of these are insurmountable. The technology exists to allow the safe extraction of such reserves, subject to robust regulation being in place.
- 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 high population density of those parts of Scotland most likely to host significant unconventional oil and gas resources would be a challenge for any form of re-industrialisation, and will thus be so for any future unconventional oil and gas industry.
- Public concerns around unconventional oil and gas development include concerns about technical risk such as water contamination, public health and seismicity, but also wider issues such as social impacts on communities, effect on climate targets and trust in operators, regulators and policymakers.
- Many of these social and environmental impacts can be mitigated if they are carefully considered at the planning application stage. Added to which, there are already considerable legislative safeguards to ensure such impacts are not realised.
- Early consultation with communities on unconventional oil and gas developments is vital to identify potential impacts on the community, to scope potential benefits and develop plans to mitigate the impacts and enhance the benefits.
Box 4: Delivering impartial and robust evidence
To support the Scottish Government's commitment to gathering robust and impartial evidence on the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas, the research projects were awarded following Scottish Government procurement guidelines, and subject to confirmation that there were no conflicts of interest in carrying out the work.
The studies that examine climate change and health impacts were undertaken by public bodies with particular expertise (described below). All the other projects were awarded through competitive tender.
The Committee on Climate Change is the independent body tasked with advising UK and devolved governments on meeting their emissions targets and reporting on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change.
Health Protection Scotland is part of NHSScotland and they provide advice, support and information to health professionals, national and local government, the general public and a number of other bodies that play a part in protecting health.
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