Scotland is at the forefront of a “new energy revolution” according to the head of engineering giant Weir Group, who said skills learnt in the North Sea could help drive the development of shale gas.
Keith Cochrane said the UK’s reserves of unconventional oil and gas have the potential to boost the country’s tax revenues and energy security, and insisted that the industry is “environmentally respectful”.
The British Geological Survey estimates there could be about 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas under parts of northern England, which would meet Britain’s annual gas needs for more than 40 years even if only 10 per cent could be extracted. However, the process of “fracking”, which uses high-pressure chemicals to fracture rocks and release natural gas, has been criticised by environmental groups who argue it causes earthquakes and pollutes water.
Cochrane said: “I believe that, with proper regulation and responsible operators, this is a very safe and environmentally respectful industry. There is a need for the debate to be properly grounded in scientific fact, rather than some of the assertions that we sometimes hear.”
Energy Secretary Ed Davey said last month that exploiting the reserves could increase the UK’s energy security by reducing its dependence on imports, but “we can’t bank on shale gas to solve all our energy challenges”.
Cochrane echoed that sentiment last night, although he said: “I strongly believe we are in the early days of a new energy revolution”.
In a lecture to the University of Strathclyde’s faculty of engineering, he added: “The implications of shale in the US have already been significant and could become even more profound in the years to come. The question now is how the rest of the world reacts.”
Glasgow-based Weir has spent more than £1 billion acquiring businesses involved in the US shale industry, where gas prices are substantially lower than the UK, and generates annual revenues of more than £500 million from North American oil and gas markets.