Talking Fracking: a consultation on unconventional oil and gas

A consultation on unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.

Community considerations

The location of unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland means that some communities in populated areas of Scotland would be in close proximity to developments.

With emphasis on the research we commissioned to examine potential health and transport impacts, this section explores the potential social and health implications of unconventional oil and gas developments.

Community impacts

Most of Scotland's unconventional oil and gas deposits occur in and around former coalfields and oil shale fields in Scotland's central belt, which are amongst the most densely populated parts of the country.

The Expert Panel noted that there are a range of public concerns around unconventional oil and gas developments, including concerns about technical risk such as water contamination, public health and seismicity, but also wider issues. The Expert Panel also noted the importance of sustained and meaningful community engagement.

The Scottish Government is committed to listening to the views of communities, and to encouraging community involvement in local decision making. This consultation is part of that process.

The presence, scale and nature of potential impacts, and steps that can be taken to mitigate or minimise impacts, vary across the different stages of an unconventional oil and gas development.

Regulatory controls provide a framework for assessing and mitigating potential impacts, and for consulting communities on specific development proposals. The section on regulation (PDF page 50) discusses these issues further.

Community involvement in prospective developments

The Scottish Government is committed to involving people in the decisions that affect them and to making information and data accessible.

The EU's Public Participation Directive provides a legal framework for doing this, including in relation to any plans to extract oil and gas for commercial purposes. The Directive requires public participation in decision-making and regulation, including through access to information and consultation.

Before Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences can be offered for award, the licensing authority (currently the Oil and Gas Authority, but the responsibilities are transferring to the Scottish Government) must conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment of their plan.

Effective public engagement lies at the heart of Strategic Environmental Assessment, and is a legal requirement within it, ensuring that those with an interest or likely to be affected by a plan have an opportunity to help shape it. An environmental assessment is first conducted, and the findings are captured within an Environmental Report which is published alongside the plan, for public consultation.

Once an operator has a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence they can make a planning application.

Everyone has the right to comment on any planning application that is being considered by a planning authority. Community councils have a formal role in the planning system as they are consulted during the pre-application consultation by the developer, and later when the planning application has been submitted.

The planning system provides an early and direct role in considering and mitigating potential community impacts. In considering a planning application, the Planning Authority (and developer) would need to consider and address a range of factors, including:

  • disturbance, disruption and noise, and potential pollution of land, air and water;
  • impacts on local communities, houses, hospitals, schools, dwellings and businesses;
  • benefits to the local and national economy;
  • how the impacts would add to those already in place from other mineral or landfill sites in the area;
  • effects on natural heritage, habitats and the historic environment;
  • transport, landscape and visual impacts; and
  • restoration and aftercare (including any benefits which may arise from areas being improved from their original state following decommissioning).

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA) consult with the public at certain parts of the regulatory process, for example, they may consult when making changes to permits for protecting the environment from pollution.

All the regulatory bodies that would be involved in any unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland make a range of information publically available. This includes:

  • information about Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences, drilling consents and drilling activity. This information is currently published by the Oil and Gas Authority, and will be published by the Scottish Government when powers are transferred;
  • applications for access to coal are publicised for 30 days by the Coal Authority, who also maintain a list of all applications which is available to the public;
  • registers containing details of permits and authorisations issued by SEPA are maintained by SEPA and are open to public inspection; and
  • the Health and Safety Executive make details available in the event of taking enforcement action against a company, including issuing a notice or prosecuting.

The regulatory regimes that apply to unconventional oil and gas developments are discussed further in the section on regulation, which begins on PDF page 50.

Research findings: potential health implications

One of the most prominent concerns for communities is potential impacts on human health.

The Scottish Government asked Health Protection Scotland to undertake a rigorous and robust assessment of the available evidence on the health impacts arising from unconventional oil and gas extraction. We also asked Health Protection Scotland to review evidence on potential wider health-related issues, including on issues such as physical and mental wellbeing.

To carry out the assessment, Health Protection Scotland drew on the expertise of others including NHS Health Scotland and SEPA. The Health Impact Assessment was peer-reviewed by a panel of four reviewers, three of which were nominated by stakeholders representing community, environmental and industry interest.

The findings of this Health Impact Assessment are summarised below.

What are the potential risks to health associated with exploration for, and exploitation of, shale oil and gas and coal bed methane?

  • The overall conclusion of the Health Impact Assessment is that the evidence considered was 'inadequate' as a basis to determine whether development of shale oil and gas or coal bed methane would pose a risk to public health.
  • Inadequate means: 'The available studies are of insufficient quality, consistency or statistical power to allow a conclusion to be drawn regarding the presence or absence of an association between unconventional oil and gas-related activities and health outcomes, or activities and exposure above health based limits. Or there were no studies available.'
  • In this context, a risk to public health is the probability that unconventional oil, and gas-related activities would result in exposure of the public to environmental hazards above recognised health-based limits that could lead to adverse health effects.
  • Individual conclusions were drawn on particular types of unconventional oil and gas-related hazards; and specific types of health outcome.

What are the wider health implications of deploying the technology necessary for the exploration and exploitation of shale oil and gas and coal bed methane?

  • The evidence reviewed on the wider implications of unconventional oil and gas on health was primarily qualitative. This identified varied views in the studied communities on the perceived positive and negative impacts of unconventional oil and gas development. The review focused on self-reported concerns, anxieties and stress and possible economic benefits.

What options could there be to mitigate any potential adverse impacts that are identified?

  • The study concluded that the evidence reviewed, while lacking in quantity, quality and consistency, would justify adopting a precautionary approach if unconventional oil and gas development were to be allowed in Scotland in the future.
  • The study also noted that a precautionary approach should be proportionate to the scale of the hazards and potential health impacts, both adverse and beneficial.
  • The study noted that within environmental public health, adopting a precautionary approach can take a number of forms. It is not unusual for a precautionary approach to be adopted in order to allow the development of a technology, where it is considered that realistic, practical opportunities can be identified to control potentially hazardous exposures, or to mitigate any potential adverse impacts on health.
  • The study summarises the approaches taken to unconventional oil and gas by other countries/governments, ranging from bans to supporting industry. The study concludes that a precautionary approach in Scotland could be based on adopting a range of mitigation measures involving operational best practice, regulatory frameworks and community engagement.
  • The health impact assessment identifies areas where there was a consensus among experts that the current regulatory framework for development in Scotland could be strengthened, including in respect of planning and environmental regulation and in relation to local health impact assessment.

Research findings: potential transport implications

One of the potentially most significant and visible impacts for communities could be increased traffic volumes on certain nearby roads, in particular from Heavy Goods Vehicles ( HGV). Possible further impacts could include increased noise and local air pollution and the potential for an increased number of traffic incidents.

To examine these issues further, we commissioned research to better understand the potential for local increases in traffic volume during an unconventional oil and gas development.

The research also explored how traffic volumes and impacts might vary by location (such as remote rural or urban centres) as well as the duration of impacts, that is, whether the impacts are short term or longer lasting.

A summary of the main research findings is provided below.

How would traffic volumes in and around sites change during the different stages of unconventional oil and gas development?

  • The additional traffic movements associated with unconventional oil and gas developments are unlikely to be significant or detectable at a regional ( i.e. local authority) or national scale, in view of the much greater numbers of traffic movements resulting from other activities.
  • Each well pad could require traffic movements to be sustained at around 190 per week for a period of approximately two years during the development (exploration and appraisal) phase. For context, a warehouse/distribution centre may be expected to generate approximately 5,000 two-way HGV movements per week. A wind farm construction can require 800-1,000 two-way movements at its peak.
  • The main factor affecting traffic flows is the requirement for transportation of water. If that can be avoided ( e.g. by use of pipelines or re-using wastewater) the impacts can be significantly reduced.

What are the potential impacts of increased traffic and what steps could be taken to mitigate impacts on communities?

  • Any increase in vehicle movements could result in an increase in noise, vehicle emissions, road damage or traffic accident risks, which may be identified as negligible, or may require mitigation.
  • Provided the planning and Environment Impact Assessment system is properly implemented, any significant impacts would be avoided through the use of appropriate mitigation measures.
  • However, even with mitigation and guidance in place, local communities would experience an increase in traffic numbers, potentially for a number of years.

Potential community benefits

There are a number of examples of schemes that help communities who host industrial activity to share in the economic benefits of those developments. An example is community benefit schemes for onshore wind development, where operators provide a voluntary contribution to local communities affected by wind energy developments.

Another example is Scotland's Landfill Communities Fund, which recognises that those living close to landfill sites may experience loss of amenity and other impacts as result of the storage, treatment and handling of waste close to their communities. The Scottish Landfill Communities Fund allows landfill operators to fund local environmental and community projects.

A number of proposals have been made by the industry and the UK Government on reinvesting the proceeds of unconventional oil and gas developments in local communities.

The onshore industry trade body ( UK Onshore Oil and Gas) has published a charter for community benefits, which voluntarily commits operators to providing communities with a £100,000 payment per exploratory (hydraulically fractured) well site and a community revenue stream of (no less than) 1% of revenues during the production stage.

The economic impact analysis examines potential contributions to communities from voluntary industry commitments. Table 4 sets out the total community benefits that would arise from a community benefit payment of 4% of revenues. The analysis is based on production scenarios described on PDF page 29. The research noted that a licence-holder in Scotland announced in 2014 that it would give 6% of the shale gas revenues to homeowners, landowners and communities close to its wells.

In the Autumn Statement 2015, the UK Government announced that it will commit up to 10% of shale gas tax revenues to a Shale Wealth Fund - this is projected to invest up to £1 billion in the North of England and other shale producing areas over the next 25 years.

Table 4:Community benefit payments under different industry scenarios [6] .

    Central High Low
Shale gas £m 187 578 63
Associated liquids £m 30 85 1
Total £m 217 663 64

In August 2016 the UK Government launched a Shale Wealth Fund consultation in which it set out proposals for how the Fund is to be managed and who will benefit. The consultation includes a proposal that local communities as well as regions affected should gain directly from the benefits of shale development.

Whilst the licensing of onshore production has been devolved, the fiscal regime remains reserved.

Scottish Government Observations on the Evidence

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 and that this 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 and keep the evidence-base (domestic and international) under continuous review to ensure their assessment of health impacts reflects the current state of knowledge.

Consultation questions

This section discussed potential social, community and health implications of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland, and the findings from the evidence we have commissioned to examine these issues.

In answering the following questions, please consider whether, in your view, there are any specific gaps in the evidence presented.

Q1: What are your views on the potential social, community and health impacts of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland?

Q2: What are your views on the community benefit schemes that could apply, were an unconventional oil and gas industry to be developed in Scotland?



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