IT HAS been criticised by environmental campaigners as a polluting force that could quite literally destabilise the continent.
But unlocking shale gas through so-called “fracking” – and a similar type of reserve, coal bed methane (CBM) – has driven US gas prices to about a fifth of those in Europe.
Opponents, however, have condemned these extraction processes as a “disaster for the climate”, which in Scotland would severely taint government ambitions to turn the country into the world’s home of clean energy.
Despite this enormous divide, one of the country’s leading advocates of unconventional gas technologies sees a way for the two energy sources – renewable and non-renewable – to work together.
With investment in the billions needed to hook Scotland’s wind and wave farms into the energy network, gas industry veteran Tom Pickering believes the companies behind CBM and similar projects could help defray the costs of upgrading the grid.
Pickering, who will chair the second annual Unconventional Gas Conference to be held in Aberdeen this week, argues that both require the overhaul of a grid system designed to accommodate a previous generation of high input from the likes of nuclear and coal-fired power stations.
“When you look at the base infrastructure that allows them to feed in, there is a mutual interest there,” Pickering said. “I am not sure there is a recognition that in size and scale they actually match each other’s requirements. As more CBM projects come through, there will be an increase in requests for these types of feed-ins, but there is an opportunity to lead on this, rather than discover it later.”
Despite the obvious allure of cheaper energy, governments and regulators are treading cautiously on the delicate subject of shale gas. There is a similar trepidation when it comes to CBM, which sometimes requires fracking, but not always, as it comes from traditional coal seams located closer to the surface than shale gas deposits.
Even so, proposals to prospect for Scottish CBM at sites in the Borders and the central Lowlands have met with sustained opposition from environmental groups who favour the Scottish Government’s commitment to the renewables sector.
Earlier this year, an application for CBM drilling at Moodiesburn in North Lanarkshire was withdrawn after some 200 objections were lodged. Meanwhile, the head of WWF Scotland has said it would be “an embarrassment” for the government if Stirling-based Dart Energy is allowed to proceed with drilling tests for CBM at Airth, near Falkirk.
Pickering, who sold what is now the UK arm of Dart to its Australian owners in 2011, said safety would be one of the key themes at this week’s Unconventional Gas Conference.
“The industry needs to respond to these concerns in a fact-based way,” he said.
“In Europe, our oil and gas has been produced offshore for a long time, and there is something of a disconnect in many people’s minds because they don’t see where that comes from.
“We need to link people’s minds to how the energy we use is produced.”
The two-day conference, which is expected to attract about 300 people from the unconventional gas sector, follows last week’s rejection of a ban on shale gas by EU politicians.
In a vote by the European Parliament, ministers said European Union member states had the right to explore their reserves.
However, they also called for a more robust regulatory regime, as “addressing health and environmental risks will be of paramount importance for the industry to gain broad public acceptance”.