Autumn statement, fracking resumes and some great media coverage!

It’s been a busy fortnight on the fracking front: the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement – in which George Osbourne announced a consultation on tax breaks for shale companies; a new gas strategy; and a new Office of Unconventional Gas – was followed by Ed Davey’s decision that Caudrilla could resume fracking at the site in Lancashire that saw two earth tremors last year; both of which attracted strong coverage in the Scottish media.

The Autumn statement is interesting from a Scottish perspective: tax breaks will impact on companies operating in Scotland, but the new Office of Unconventional Gas which has been set up to streamline regulation can’t really do that in Scotland as both planning and environmental regulation are devolved, only licensing is reserved. Also the new UK Gas Generation Strategy has a whole chapter on shale gas but completely ignores coalbed methane, possibly because it is managing to roll out under the radar fairly successfully…

Ed Davey’s widely anticipated and publicised green light for fracking did not involve the lifting of any legal moratorium, because there wasn’t one in place to lift. What DECC had was more like a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Caudrilla that they would not frack in Lancashire until the seismic risks had been assessed.  Assessment done, risks thought by DECC to be low enough, Cuadrilla can resume fracking. It’s important to emphasise that DECC were only looking at the seismic risks of fracking: not the climate risks, not air and water pollution, not health, nor public acceptability, as recommended by the Royal Society and Academy of Engineers, amongst others. However, in a classic case of putting cart before horse, Davey also announced a study of the climate impacts of hydraulic fracturing.

The Scottish Government’s position has been that they will look at the environmental impacts of unconventional gas if / when it is raised as a planning issue with Ministers. However, following some focused media scrutiny it also commented more helpfully: “Whilst we recognise the future potential there is for unconventional gas in Scotland, shale gases and coalbed methane are not included in our energy plans or in our national energy modelling.”

Shadow environment Minister Claire Baker MSP (whose Fife constituency has two license areas in it) has also raised concerns about loopholes in the planning system that mean fracking can be introduced to CBM developments after the planning process and without community consultation, and has tabled a motion at Parliament calling on the Government to address concerns about unconventional gas. You can email your MSP to ask them to sign the motion here.

Dart’s planning application for 22 new CBM wells over 14 sites at Airth was supposed to be decided later this month but has been delayed until likely February next year. The lead planning authority for the development – Falkirk Council – have already received around 350 objections. The strong community campaign has been bolstered by objections from Network Rail, Cala Homes and Persimmon house builders and RSPB Scotland.

Dart have consistently said they don’t intend to frack at this site and that it is ‘not technically feasible’ but without explaining why. They recently expanded on that statement saying that the well / borehole design they use is not compatible with fracking; however there are no promises not design wells suitable for fracking in the coming years to access the full resource they want to exploit at Airth!

All this activity triggered some broad and pretty helpful coverage of the issues we are facing here in Scotland:

Media coverage

A 4 page spread inc front page from Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald: http://www.robedwards.com/2012/12/the-dangers-of-scotlands-dash-for-underground-gas.html and http://www.robedwards.com/2012/12/fear-that-fracking-could-start-on-the-sly.html plus editorial http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/news/home-news/gas-risks-must-be-known.19629667?_=c6e97c7a602b43b231da233facdfa44dd6b0187a

Scotland on Sunday had Network Rail’s objection to the development on the front page http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/rail-blast-fears-over-gas-extraction-plan-1-2682371

Scotsman on incompatibility of fracking with climate targets http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/fracking-incompatible-with-uk-s-climate-change-commitments-politicians-warned-1-2686154

The Herald on Ed Davey’s green light for fracking http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/fracking-approval-given-for-controversial-gas-plan-to-resume.1355397146 and the Scotsman on sleep-walking into fracking http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/scotland-sleepwalking-into-dash-for-gas-as-shale-fracking-is-permitted-1-2689321

The Herald http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/scots-sites-earmarked-for-fracking.19675110 and the Edinburgh Evening News http://www.scotsman.com/news/controversial-fracking-gas-drilling-method-may-come-to-lothians-1-2691954 on DECC’s licensing plans

And a wee piece from the BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20711066

Opinion pieces

Good opinion piece from Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/09/shale-gas-frackheads-dubious-dream

And a very contrasting view from Boris Johnson, worth reading as an exposition of the pro-shale case http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/borisjohnson/9733518/Ignore-the-doom-merchants-Britain-should-get-fracking.html

Professor Paul Stevens of Chatham House on why a European shale gas revolution is unlikely and links to the Government’s gas strategy http://www.chathamhouse.org/media/comment/view/187991

Professor Paul Ekins of UCL on the same topic http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22594-the-uks-new-dash-for-gas-is-a-dangerous-gamble.html

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