What Scottish Government could do about fracking even without Independence.

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The UK Government have recently opened up new areas of Scotland where companies can bid for licences for fracking and other unconventional gas extraction. Some of these licences have already been sold e.g to Ineos, owners of the Grangemouth plant. Because Energy Policy is not devolved at present the UK Government was able to do this without getting permission from the Scottish Government.

However, just because the licences have been issued doesn’t mean that there aren’t steps which Scottish Government could take to make unconventional gas extraction in Scotland very unattractive using the powers which it currently has on planning and environmental regulation. These could be used to put in place a really strong regulatory framework which could effectively stop this unconventional gas extraction. Scottish Government have used a similar approach to prevent the development of any new nuclear power stations in Scotland, and there is no reason why they could not do the same for unconventional gas. Their stance so far has been rather hesitant and if they are serious about meeting their much vaunted climate change targets they need to do much more about reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Opening the floodgates to unconventional gas extraction won’t do this.

There are several steps which they could take including:

1) Setting similar buffer zones between developments and settlements to that in Australia (2 km), where a settlement is any inhibited dwelling (not just large towns). There very few places in the central belt coal/shale are or the Canonbie area which are more than 2 km from a house. So far Scottish Government have only specified a discretionary buffer zone which is to be proposed by the extraction companies and reviewed by local planning authorities. This is not good enough – we know that local authorities have taken a very variable approach to defining settlements and setting buffer distances around other developments such as opencast sites.

2) Setting requirements for very hefty restoration/accident clean up bonds to ensure that any sites approved are properly restored and that any incidents of contamination are dealt with at the expense of the extraction companies, not the public purse. The restoration bonds which councils were fobbed off with for opencast coals sites were woefully inadequate and have left councils will huge bills for restoration in the wake of Scottish Coal’s bankruptcy.

3) Ensuring that sufficient funding is extracted from operators to allow SEPA to do effective monitoring of methane emissions, groundwater contamination and other pollution risks are any extraction sites. SEPA have had a series of large staff cuts in recent years and don’t have the capability to do this at present. I don’t think it is acceptable for operators to “self monitor” or appoint an “independent” monitor of their own choosing. It must be SEPA and it must be paid for by operators licence fees, not through SEPA’s grant from taxpayers.

4) Ensuring that detailed monitoring of background levels of contaminants in groundwater is carried out before any drilling starts. At present there is only very limited monitoring of groundwater in Scotland mainly because it is difficult to get at because there are not many boreholes. It is essential that the condition of groundwater is understood before drilling starts as otherwise operators will be able to claim that pollution pre-dated gas extraction activities.

5) Setting up a proper a regulatory framework for this activity – none exists at present. This must include binding guidance to local authorities on how to deal with unconventional gas applications.

6) Banning drilling under anyone’s property without their permission (this will stop sideways drilling from remote locations). UK Gov ran a consultation on this and reported back at the end of Sept recommending changes to the trespass laws to allow drilling under property without consent. These changes have not been implemented yet as they need changes to the law, so will have to go through Parliament which could mean that they do not get enacted before the 2015 general election. UK Gov say that their consultation applies to England, Scotland and Wales, but this seems to be based on energy policy not being devolved and ignores the fact that the trepass laws in Scotland devolved and are different to those in England and Wales. I am not sure which get the final say (although I can guess which UK Gov think do!). So we can still lobby MPs about this (suspect it could become an issue in the 2015 election) and try to get an opinion on whether UK Gov can, in fact, change the trepass laws in Scotland.

7) Requiring that all applications for unconventional gas extraction and related activity to be heard by the planning committee to avoid the Canonbie situation where DART Energy/Buccleuch Estates made separate applications for about 30 well heads and a compressor station each of which were dealt with as “minor developments” and so were approved by council officers without the planning committee being aware of them or realising their significance when put together.

8) Supplying sufficient funding to allow local authorities to recruit staff with sufficient specialist expertise to be able to properly assess applications.

9) Giving clear guidance on how the duties on public bodies relating to climate change set out in section 44.1.a of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act should be applied by planners. This section states that “A public body must, in exercising its functions, act in the way best calculated to contribute to the delivery of the [emissions reduction] targets”. To date this has not been used to challenge developments which could increase greenhouse gas emissions, but there is no reason why it could not be, and clearly unconventional gas extraction will increase greenhouse gas emissions both by leaks of methane from wells and by carbon dioxide emissions from burning the gas.

10) Requiring Health Impact Assessments as well as Environmental Impact Assessments for these developments.

However so far the SNP has sat on the fence about this rather more than I would like. I hope that this was just because they didn’t want to rock the boat with their friends in the fossil fuel industry in the run up to Indy Ref and that now they will have the courage to take some sensible action on this. Greens will certainly be pushing for it.

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32 thoughts on “What Scottish Government could do about fracking even without Independence.

  1. I agree with the ideas expressed. Please find somebody who can type and/or edit properly. Or else run the risk of not being taken seriously.

  2. Good blog. You have listed 10 things which could be done to alleviate fears, all of which cost money. But even if money was no object, no one can design and run a perfect system – there will always be failures and releases of methane. It’s a matter of probability and the UC gas industry (US) seems to think a 5% failure rate is acceptable. Who’d get on a plane with a 5% chance of failure?

    It was hard enough getting a 500m buffer zone round opencast coal sites in the 1990s but the issue should be raised. Government owns mineral rights in UK, not the landowner, and will be tempted by potential income, tho I don’t know what that’s estimated at. As oil prices fall, and they have been since June, there’s less incentive (potential profit). Now’s a good time to get some commitment from Scot Gov.

    This is well worth a watch. Anthony Ingraffea on UC gas extraction – from 2011 but he’s done more recent presentations which I have yet to see. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjdhiZJCyzU. Watched both parts and would recommend to anyone interested in slightly technical facts and not put off by watching 2 x 45min lectures. He takes 4 ‘truths’, such as ‘it’s an established technology’ and ‘leaks are rare’ and shows why these may apply to conventional gas but certainly NOT to unconventional gas. As I always say – welcome to the peak!

    • The point of the actions suggested isn’t to alleviate fears, its that they are things which could make UC gas extraction increasingly expensive and/or impractical and therefore effectively stop it. Obviously a complete ban would be the most sensible solution, but that’s really in the hands of the UK Government until such time as energy policy is devolved (we’ll see what the Smith Commission have to say about this!). At present UK Gov doesn’t seem to be showing any intention of controlling UC Gas, so it’s a question of what Scottish Government can do with the powers they have.

      As I say in the blog there seem to be mixed messages coming from SG at the moment, with not much action resulting. It’s not good enough to sit back and say that nothing can be done because Scotland didn’t vote for Independence. Nor is it good enough just form some sort of commission to assess risks and regulation etc which will at some point report back with recommendations which may or may not restrict the technology (Commissions and Inquiries are a well known tactic for kicking action into the long grass!). Because applications for UC gas exploration and extraction are going in now, there has to be action now, otherwise precedents will be set and we will be trying to bolt the stable door after the horse has bolted.

      There has been much talk in the independence debate about Sustainable Scotland and our huge renewables potential. This plus demand reduction is what we need to develop, not continuing to destroy the planet with yesterday’s dirty energy solutions. I’d really like to see Scottish Government get of the fence on this, and soon!

      • But surely the two are the same thing? IF measures were put in place to make fracking APPEAR safer (i.e. alleviate fears), they would make the process prohibitively expensive. It was ever thus – the conventional fossil fuel industry would not have been so profitable were it not for centuries of free dumping of its waste into water and air. So where does that leave the lower-returning unconventional sector wrt profitability and safety?

        Of course we should get the Scottish Government off the fence wrt fossil fuels in general, and fracking in particular, but maybe they’ve realised the radical nature of what has to be done if we really are going to hit ambitious climate targets. Or maybe they’re wondering how this all plays out if the oil price keeps falling. We have to use the powers we have to reduce demand and boost sustainable renewable input.

  3. Excellent thinking. You’ve obviously done your homework! That said, all of these points will be void when TTIP gets through. Then it will be simply a question of corporations overturning protective laws and regulations (in private ‘courts’) because their profits are put at risk!

  4. “However so far the SNP has sat on the fence about this rather more than I would like. I hope that this was just because they didn’t want to rock the boat with their friends in the fossil fuel industry in the run up to Indy Ref and that now they will have the courage to take some sensible action on this.”

    There’s also the very real possibility that if the Scottish Government do make a far more decisive stance against fracking, Westminster will just do exactly what they did with renewable obligations and have the few options they do have taken back by the House of Lords. Considering the vested interests many in the Conservative party have in the fracking industry on a personal basis, we have to be extremely careful in using the resources we do have – overplaying our hand might strip us of any possible action.

  5. The SNP Govt is probably very aware that Ineos would play hard ball if they don’t get Planning consents to operate the licenses. You will remember only last year they were on the brink of shutting down the whole petro chemical plant at Grangemouth…..putting thousands of jobs at risk. We need to remember folk have mortgages and rents to pay, kids to feed, clothes to buy. It may be that the new plant Ineos are in the process of building would anchor them to Grangemouth and the present model of importing shale gas from the USA. ie they may not want to develop sites for 20 years or so. Me? I think we should resist fracking but if it means turning Falkirk and Grangemouth into a desert then I may change my view.

  6. In 2012 the lords approved the removal of Scottish powers over renewable obligation and they were brought back under the control of Westminster. They could do, and it is planned, to take back our planning laws, that would be catastrophic for Scotland, not least with regard to fracking, best to keep an eye out for proposals for this in the coming months.

  7. We cannot allow these companies to blackmail communities into getting fracking agreed! Employment is needed yes but what good is that when the community is trashed and health affected? We needto be creative with industry and not just line the pockets of sharks put to make a buck from communities after all they won’t benefit from the billions the companies will make. Energy bills will be just as high.

  8. A compromise option would be to grant planning for offshore deposits only at the moment.

    A lot of the fears over fracking seem to be unfounded, and incidents in the USA turned out to be bad operating procedure, leaking wells etc, rather than any natural seepage.
    But it’s easy to scaremonger over with sensationalist videos and conspiracy theories.

    It looks like it can be done safely, but it is still prudent to keep it away from sources of groundwater.
    I would have nothing against UGC if it was proven it could be done safely, with emissions controlled.
    There are also potentially large revenues, which councils may end up getting a good share of.
    Parties have to weigh everything up, including electoral liability.

  9. There is considerable evidence in reputable scientific journals of methane leaks from well casings which mean that methane (a more powerful greenhouse gas then carbon dioxide) leaks into the atmosphere, as well as the leaks into groundwater. These two review articles from a well respected international journal highlight some of the issues for air and water quality. Unfortunately you need to be pay to view the whole articles, but well worth doing if you’re interested in this.http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2014/em/c4em00081a#!divAbstract
    http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2014/em/c4em00018h#!divAbstract

    Although regulation can help it won’t completely solve the problem, and will never solve the problem of CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels. Shorting out runaway climate change will cost more than the profit from selling these fuels. Which is why major players like the US and China are coming round to the idea of a tough new emissions treaty to replace Kyoto. Will start to knock the bottom out of the fossil fuel market and leave us with leaking wells with no money to repair them. We’ve already seen this happen with open cast coal sites.

  10. As I said before, try to find time to watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjdhiZJCyzU. ‘Truths’ such as ‘it’s an established technology’ and ‘leaks are rare’ may apply to conventional gas but certainly NOT to unconventional gas. Offshoring it (out of sight, out of mind?) is not the answer – leave that for turbines, which are part of the future. UC gas is an energy source which will not deliver and as Janet said, if fracking begins and then fails to deliver economically, we’ll be left with leaking wells and abandoned infrastructure. And we will have wasted time which could have been used to reduce energy demand and make renewables work.

  11. Naomi Klein: ‘Big green groups are more damaging than climate deniers’ – Guardian

    Well, I think there is a very a deep denialism in the environmental movement among the Big Green groups. And to be very honest with you, I think it’s been more damaging than the right-wing denialism in terms of how much ground we’ve lost. Because it has steered us in directions that have yielded very poor results. I think if we look at the track record of Kyoto, of the UN Clean Development Mechanism, the European Union’s emissions trading scheme – we now have close to a decade that we can measure these schemes against, and it’s disastrous. Not only are emissions up, but you have no end of scams to point to, which gives fodder to the right.

    The right took on cap-and-trade by saying it’s going to bankrupt us, it’s handouts to corporations, and, by the way, it’s not going to work. And they were right on all counts. Not in the bankrupting part, but they were right that this was a massive corporate giveaway, and they were right that it wasn’t going to bring us anywhere near what scientists were saying we needed to do lower emissions

  12. Without seeing the context of Naomi Klein’s comment it’s hard to comment on it.

    However I do agree with you that carbon trading schemes are not the away to tackle climate change. They were introduced as an easy option by politicians who did not have the guts to legislate to reduce emission, with the intention of transferring responsibility for action from politicians and “decision makers” (who rarely make decisions) to “the market”. They then didn’t limit the number of permits enough to make any change happen. Emissions permits have become just another tradable commodity – at any given time most permits are not held by organisations likely to emit carbon but by various investment organisations – there’s even a futures market in emissions permits.

    We need to make the political will give politicans a mandate to make challenging, legally bind rules to reduce emissions. We also need people to take responsibility for their own actions!

    • Context for Naomi

      http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/sep/10/naomi-klein-green-groups-climate-deniers

      There will never be a reduction in CO2, that is absolutely clear. No one wants it. Global warming science is extremely indeterminate and there are extremely few practitioners who will defend it in a political context.

      Again, this is my website.

      http://goo.gl/70tzt

      More Naomi Klein. I pushed her again and again to say this (not claiming I had any effect) because I knew she already come to the same conclusion. The oil companies own (almost all of) the green movement. Either that or the EU (e.g. Friends of The Earth) which is roughly the same thing as the oil industry/banks.

      The whole affair, according to Klein, underlines a painful truth behind the “catastrophic failure” of some environmental organisations to combat the fossil-fuel industries responsible for soaring
      greenhouse gas emissions. “Large parts of the movement aren’t actually fighting those interests – they have merged with them,” she writes, pointing to green groups that have accepted fossil-fuel
      industry donations or partnerships and invited industry executives on to their boards.

      It is no coincidence, suggests Klein, that several environmental organisations have also championed climate policies that are the least burdensome to the energy industry, including generously designed
      carbon markets and the use of natural gas as a bridge to a cleaner energy system.

      http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/e373bd70-3d8e-11e4-b782-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3IlD0mBsv

      How the world works is that the people who run it are vastly smarter and more capable than those who watch.

      cheers

  13. As a postdoctoral scientist who works on climate issues I would say your statement that “Global warming science is extremely indeterminate and there are extremely few practitioners who will defend it in a political context.” is very inaccurate. The vast majority of papers on climate support the view that climate change is real and results from emissions of greenhouse gases which result from human activity (remembering that there is a huge incentive to publish a robust paper discrediting climate change as if such a thing existed it would be one of the most cited papers on the planet!). This is reflected in the recent Fifth Assessment report of the IPCC which made an even stronger case for this and for action to be taken than previous assessments.

    The science behind climate change is simple, and well established. The link between rising CO2 concentrations and an increase in average global temperates was laid out by the Swedish chemist Arrhenius in 1896 using basic physics and has not been disproved. http://www.rsc.org/images/Arrhenius1896_tcm18-173546.pdf

    Exactly what the effects of this increase in temperature will be on any given part of the world are more difficult to model, and yes there are some questions about the exact strength of the type of negative feedbacks from clouds, vegetation etc which you mention on your website, there are also positive feedbacks which we don’t model full e.g the effect effect of more vegetation reducing the reflectance of the planet and heat absorbance. but the models we have are, if anything underestimating the effects of rising GHG concentrations on climate. They aren’t perfect models – they never well be, but they give a very good indication of the likely future direction of change.

    I agree that some campaigners have lacked ambition in their approach, but these does not apply to all organisations or campaigners, and is no reason to give up trying to tackle this, because if we don’t ultimately society as we currently organise it is stuffed.

    And I strongly disagree with your view that no-one wants a reduction in greenhouse gas concentrations. People do for a whole range of reasons, some related to climate change and some not. e.g they don’t want their houses flooded, they want food to be available etc but also they want affordable energy which is becoming harder and harder to obtain from fossil fuels, the want to be able to control their lives and their energy supplies e.g through microrenewables; community owned renewables and stated owned energy companies rather than undemocratic, unaccountable multinationals.

    • What exactly do you do ?

      It really isn’t simple. If it was simple, they wouldn’t spend billions of dollars on models. Who am I supposed to believe ? You or a great scientist like Freeman Dyson ? There are massive questions about clouds and water vapour (by far the biggest greenhouse component) in general that are unlikely ever to be answered to sufficient accuracy on which to make decisions.

      The temperature record is fiction because proxies don’t work (to any level of accuracy). Secondly the models are radically incomplete, never mind inaccurate.

      New book that exposes some big lies

      The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rightful-Place-Science-Disasters-Climate/dp/0692297510/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416612589&sr=1-3

      .

  14. I have worked on various aspect of climate science over the years mainly on the chemistry side including soil atmosphere exchange of greenhouse gases; atmospheric chemistry, particularly the chemistry around the hydroxyl radical sink for methane; and the ability of land use and land use change to mitigate climate change by storing carbon in vegetation and soils. I currently work for the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology alongside world leading atmospheric and greenhouse gas scientists including Profs David Fowler, Mark Sutton and Neil Cape.

    Freeman Dyson has been a great scientist in his own field but that field isn’t climate it’s nuclear and space physics! It’s not a directly transferable area – I wouldn’t trust any of my colleagues above to get me into space or to split the atom!

    Of course the atmosphere is not simple – that’s why the models are complex and not y = mx +c linear relationships! I wouldn’t expect you to have any confidence in them if they were simple! Yes they are incomplete, and possibly incomplete with regard to the chemistry of radicals if that’s what to mean by being radically incomplete, but the major drivers are we all understood and incorporated – if they weren’t they wouldn’t predict as well as they do.

    As you say temperature proxies are also not perfect although they are improving and have not convincingly showed that there has been any temperature increase similar to the current one since the development of human civilisation. The temperature trend in post-industrial times has good reliability and shows a clear increase trend in global temperature of the magnitude predicted by Arrhenius’s analysis of the physics.

    • Thanks for your time. We aren’t going to agree. Despite being a real scientist ( I am not -have 1970s maths degree), your general knowledge on your own wider subject is full of assumptions. This is common in modern, highly specialised science. I have no problem with the science, only with its application to policy.

      Good luck.

      I’ll leave you with this.

      Freeman Dyson

      “My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.” –

      http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge219.html#dysonf

  15. Hope Scottish Gov are going to let us know what stance they are taking & ppl can get behind them with support. Everything I have read on Fracking poisoning water & enviroment, no positives except put money in the pockets of those who don’t need it. We have enough to contend with ie Trident nuclear waste.

    • Labour MP Graham Stringer, referring to Caroline Lucas’s contribution:

      The hon. Lady uses as a basis for opposing fracking the fact that we will not meet our emissions targets. So what? We are hitting our emissions targets—[Interruption.] Well, I will explain it to the hon. Lady, because she is in a fantasy world. In hitting our emissions targets, we are responsible for more carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere than we were before, because of embedded carbon coming in through industrial manufactured goods from China and elsewhere. The hon. Lady’s policy does not help the climate or reduce carbon dioxide.

      Her policy is about deindustrialisation, which is responsible for increasing the costs of industrial goods in this country by 9%, putting people out of work, and for increasing the cost of domestic energy, depending on how it is counted—by and large, it is not counted properly—by between £50 and £120 a year. The hon. Lady is concerned about carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere, but that is increasing because we are effectively subsidising imports from China and India.

      http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2014-11-25a.195.0&s=climate#g220.0

      Please read this book Green Capitalism: Manufacturing Scarcity in an Age of Abundance by Marxist James Heartfield

      It reveals yet again that the Greens are in the pockets of big business. The Greens are Enron personified. Dupes in a plot to impoverish and freeze the working classes.

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Green-Capitalism-Manufacturing-Scarcity-Abundance/dp/1906496102/ref=asap_B004OB12EO_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417052001&sr=1-3

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