From poster for Prof Shipton’s talk (see below)
I write as a scientist, with strong Green sympathies, who has been warning against the dangers of global warming for decades, and has published on the subject. I am impressed that you, alone among political parties, are aware that growth-based policies are unsustainable if they imply increasing exploitation of limited resources, and that the only purpose of growth, and economic policy in general, is to increase well-being.
I am, however, dismayed that you say: “Scotland can ban fracking once and for all. The scientific evidence is compelling” [your emphasis]
This is not what I hear from the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Nor is it what I heard (at Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub) from an acknowledged local expert, Zoe Shipton, Professor of Geological Engineering in the Department of Civil Engineering at Strathclyde University, who was involved in drafting this report.
Environmental regulation in Scotland (and indeed in the rest of what we still call the United Kingdom) is much tighter than it is in the US, and so it should be. If you think that, nonetheless, regulation is inadequate, you should be arguing about the specifics, and would attract widespread public attention by doing so. If you are arguing that we should not be fracking because fracked gas is a fossil fuel, I would remind you that per unit of energy, gas generates considerably less CO2 than coal, or even North Sea oil. Thus refraining from fracking means more CO2, not less. If you can produce a policy that would leave us completely free from fossil fuel use by the time that fracking would have paid off, I would be delighted to learn of it.
Meantime, unless you can produce evidence for your claim that there is compelling [sic] scientific evidence for a ban on fracking, I will be forced much against my will to the melancholy conclusion that you are not interested in distinguishing between genuine science-based policy-making, and the greenwash of anti-scientific Luddism.
This is an expanded version of a message sent to the Scottish Green Party, in response to their campaign materials
Appendix: key findings, verbatim and complete, from Royal Society Final report on shale gas extraction
“The key findings of this review were:
- The health, safety and environmental risks can be managed effectively in the UK. Operational best practices must be implemented and enforced through strong regulation.
- Fracture propagation is an unlikely cause of contamination. The risk of fractures propagating to reach overlying aquifers is very low provided that shale gas extraction takes place at depths of many hundreds of metres or several kilometres. Even if fractures reached overlying aquifers, the necessary pressure conditions for contaminants to flow are very unlikely to be met given the UK’s shale gas hydrogeological environments.
- Well integrity is the highest priority. More likely causes of possible contamination include faulty wells. The UK’s unique well examination scheme was set up so that independent, specialist experts could review the design of every offshore well. This scheme must be made fit for purpose for onshore activities.
- Robust monitoring is vital. Monitoring should be carried out before, during and after shale gas operations to detect methane and other contaminants in groundwater and potential leakages of methane and other gases into the atmosphere.
- An Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) should be mandatory. Every shale gas operation should assess risks across the entire lifecycle of operations, from water use through to the disposal of wastes and the abandonment of wells.
- Seismic risks are low. Seismicity should be included in the ERA.Seismicity induced by hydraulic fracturing is likely to be of smaller magnitude than the UK’s largest natural seismic events and those induced by coal mining
- Water requirements can be managed sustainably. Water use is already regulated by the Environment Agency. Integrated operational practices, such as recycling and reusing wastewaters where possible, would help to minimise water requirements further. Options for disposing of wastes should be planned from the outset. Should any onshore disposal wells be necessary in the UK, their construction, regulation and siting would need further consideration.
- Regulation must be fit for purpose. Attention must be paid to the way in which risks scale up should a future shale gas industry develop nationwide. Regulatory co-ordination and capacity must be maintained.
- Policymaking would benefit from further research. The carbon footprint of shale gas extraction needs further research. Further benefit would also be derived from research into the public acceptability of shale gas extraction and use in the context of the UK’s energy, climate and economic policies.”