The Expert Scientific Panel has suggested that fracking may be good for the Scottish economy, as it could trigger the development of unconventional gas and create new jobs.
The statement was published just as the bidding process for licences to extract shale gas was opened by the UK government. Plans to extract the gas have been in debate following the discovery of an untapped shale gas reserve lying beneath central Scotland.
It is believed that the reserve could hold as many as 11.2 barrels of shale gas just waiting to be used. However, experts say more drilling is necessary to determine just how much.
Fracking – the process of extracting shale gas from deep beneath Scotland’s land – has been the topic of much controversy among the public and environmental preservation groups.
Effects of fracking as reported by these groups include disruption and damage to the countryside; the possibility of minor earthquakes, and the risk of water pollution. It is also expected that the process would have a distinct impact on public health and climate.
But the Expert Scientific Panel (ESP) stated that fracking could actually be good for the economy, by supporting the development of unconventional gas “at scale” and creating hundreds of new jobs.
It also added that if the social and environmental impacts could be “mitigated” by carefully considering them during the planning stage, the outcomes could be all the more fruitful.
ESP chairman Dr Chris Masters said:
It is clear the development of [unconventional gas] has had a profound effect on the economy in the United States. While it is unlikely that Scotland, or indeed Europe, would benefit to a similar degree, there could be a number of positive impacts.
This would be in terms of jobs created, taxes paid, and gross value added.”
But environmentalists remain unconvinced. Mary Church, head of campaigns for Friends of the Earth Scotland, said:
This report raises a number of very serious concerns including impacts on public health and climate. The analysis clearly demonstrates that even if all the environmental, health and regulatory issues could be overcome, the cost of extraction and the technical and geological challenges would still be too great.”
She added that it is simply “wishful thinking” to believe that fracking could be done safely within one of the most densely populated areas of the country.
The Scottish Government, meanwhile, has welcomed the ESP’s study and has promised to set up a working group to consider the panel’s findings in more detail.