MINISTERS were warned today that Scotland is “sleepwalking” into a dangerous and needless dash for gas as the UK Government lifted a ban on fracking.
• Practice of fracking in UK was initially halted 18 months ago due to minor seismic activity
• Ed Davey described shale gas as a ‘promising new potential energy source for the UK’
• Environmentalists have warned that continued reliance on gas would prevent UK meeting emissions targets
UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Edward Davey made the widely expected announcement that exploratory hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to exploit underground shale gas can resume in the UK “subject to new controls to mitigate the risks of seismic activity”.
The controversial process, which is now increasingly likely to be carried out in Scotland for the first time, was suspended after causing two earthquakes in Lancashire.
Mr Davey said: “Shale gas represents a promising new potential energy resource for the UK. It could contribute significantly to our energy security, reducing our reliance on imported gas, as we move to a low carbon economy.”
He said his decision was based on evidence from a detailed study of the latest scientific research available and advice from leading experts.
Acknowledging concerns over safety the minister pledged that the “stringent” regime already in place would be strengthened.
A study of the possible impacts of shale gas exploration on greenhouse gas emissions is also being commissioned after claims that exploiting reserves would make it impossible to meet global targets on climate change.
Environmentalists remain unconvinced about the benefits of fracking and a similar technique to exploit coal bed methane extraction, which Australian giant Dart Energy plans to carry out in the Forth Valley in the first commercial scale proposal of its kind in the UK - prompting Network Rail to warn that the practice could cause an explosion beside one of Scotland’s busiest mainline railways.
Stirling Council Green Party Councillor Mark Ruskell said now that the UK ban was over, local development policies would “open the door to unrestricted extraction of unconventional gas around the Forth with “no limit” on coal bed methane extraction or fracking.”
He said: “We are sleepwalking into a dash for gas across Scotland’s central belt that could have major climate change and local environmental impacts. From Westminster to Holyrood to local councils the message is effectively ‘if gas is there then get it out and burn it’.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland campaigner Mary Church said: “While we welcome the announcement of a study into the climate change impact of shale gas, this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. A green light for fracking sends out all the wrong signals. It’s an unproven technique here in the UK, with an increasingly poor environmental track record around the world.
“What’s more, we don’t need to go down the risky shale gas and coalbed methane route. Scotland has abundant renewable energy resources, but that industry - and our world leading climate targets - will be seriously compromised by the expansion of unconventional gas and fracking.”
However Professor Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Edinburgh, was among a number of experts who support the industry.
He said: “If the relevant environmental regulations and monitoring are enforced, this can be a lower carbon source of fossil energy than imported gas. Fracking is well established in the subsurface industry, and monitoring should greatly reduce the risk of earth tremor.”
The Scottish Government has stressed that while no fracking was currently underway or planned in Scotland unconventional gas is a potential alternative gas source which if explored responsibly with due regard for safety could help secure the nation’s energy supply.