Skip to main content

28/07/14 10:00

Issued on behalf of the Expert Scientific Panel

Expert Scientific Panel report highlights Scotland could benefit from unconventional oil & gas.

An Expert Scientific Panel has concluded its report into unconventional oil & gas in Scotland.

The Panel, which was set up by the Scottish Government in September 2013, was tasked with reviewing the existing scientific evidence on unconventional hydrocarbon development.

The Chairman of the Expert Scientific Panel, Dr Chris Masters, said:

“The Panel welcomed this opportunity to produce a report for the Scottish Government on unconventional oil & gas. From the outset, the Panel recognised that there is a significant amount of scientific evidence, much of which is not always easily accessible or sometimes particularly understandable to the general public.

“We hope that this report goes some way towards helping people to understand the fundamentals of unconventional hydrocarbon developments and also helps to inform the debate on what is potentially a very important issue for Scotland but also a very sensitive one.”

On the report findings, he added;

“It is clear that the development of unconventional hydrocarbons has had a profound effect on the economy of the United States with global repercussions in terms of gas and chemical feedstock prices. While it is unlikely that Scotland, or indeed, Europe, would benefit to a similar degree, there could be a number of positive economic impacts from the development of unconventional hydrocarbons, particularly in the petrochemical industry.

“Scotland has a significant petrochemical industry, a rich heritage in the extractive industries and some advantages in terms of an existing supply chain and experience with the offshore oil & gas industry. The Panel found that there are no significant technological impediments to the development of an onshore unconventional hydrocarbon industry in Scotland and furthermore that the technology currently exists to extract such hydrocarbons safely.

“The Panel also found that much of the regulatory regime is already in place to ensure effective monitoring and control of unconventional oil & gas developments, although a number of areas were identified which require further consideration.

“Successful public engagement is undoubtedly going to be very important if an unconventional oil & gas industry is to be developed in Scotland. A robust regulatory regime would be an important element, if any such developments were to go ahead, in giving people confidence that the risks associated with unconventional oil & gas projects would be effectively managed.”

Notes to editors

The following points summarise the key conclusions of the Expert Scientific Panel:

  • The development of the unconventional oil & gas industry has changed the energy outlook of the United States of America. This has been made possible by technological advances in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The impact of the US shale gas ’revolution’ has raised interest in developing unconventional hydrocarbon resources in the rest of the world;
  • There could be positive economic impacts from the development of an unconventional oil & gas industry, in terms of jobs created, taxes paid and gross value added. The scale of the impact in Scotland is subject to debate and may only become clear once development is underway. Lack of infrastructure, such as drilling rigs, could have an impact;
  • Suitable petrochemical feed-stocks from the North Sea are declining, in particular ethane and other light hydrocarbons. The potential availability of these feed-stocks from unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland could have a beneficial impact on Scotland’s petro-chemical industry in the long term;
  • Although further exploratory drilling will be required, Scotland’s geology suggests that there could be significant reserves of unconventional oil and gas – the greatest potential reserves are likely to be in the Midland Valley of Scotland;
  • When viewed in the context of the factors that have supported coal bed methane and shale gas development in other countries, it seems likely that unconventional gas could be developed in Scotland at scale. This is particularly true, given Scotland’s domestic oil and gas supply-chain industry, and Scotland’s longstanding experience in other extractive industries such as coal mining, shale oil, and conventional oil and gas;
  • There are a number of technical challenges associated with unconventional hydrocarbon extraction, though it is the Expert Scientific Panel’s view that none of these are insurmountable. The technology exists to allow the safe extraction of such reserves, subject to robust regulation being in place;
  • The impact of unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland on the Scottish Government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases is not definitive. There could be minimal impact from unconventional hydrocarbons if they are used as a petrochemical feedstock, but lifecycle analysis of an unconventional hydrocarbon industry is required to inform the debate, and provide a clearer view on the impact of their development;
  • The regulatory framework is largely in place to control the potential environmental impacts of the production of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, although there may be gaps to address;
  • The high population density of those parts of Scotland most likely to host significant unconventional oil and gas resources would be a challenge for any form of re-industrialisation, and will thus be so for any future unconventional oil and gas industry;
  • The development of any new industry is likely to impact society - detecting and alleviating negative impacts, and enhancing positive impacts, is complicated unless careful planning of how to identify impacts is undertaken;
  • Public concerns around unconventional oil and gas development include concerns about technical risk such as water contamination, public health and seismicity, but also wider issues such as social impacts on communities, effect on climate targets and trust in operators, regulators and policymakers;
  • Many of these social (and environmental) impacts can be mitigated if they are carefully considered at the planning application stage. Added to which, there are already considerable legislative safeguards to ensure such impacts are not realised;
  • Early consultation with communities is vital to identify potential impacts on the community, to scope potential benefits and develop plans to mitigate the impacts and enhance the benefits;
  • Public engagement is necessary for the development of unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland and there is a growing body of evidence showing that sustained and meaningful community engagement has beneficial outcomes for communities, operators and policymakers.

The full report is available here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/07/1758

The members of the Expert Scientific Panel on Unconventional Oil & Gas were:

Dr Chris Masters CBE - Dr Chris Masters CBE, FRSE is currently the Chairman of Energy Assets Plc. He also holds a number of other non-executive directorships, including Speedy Hire Plc and The Crown Agents. He is a member of the Court of Edinburgh University and Independent Co-Chair of the Scottish Science Advisory Council. Full time executive positions have included Chief Executive of Christian Salvesen PLC and Executive Chairman of Aggreko plc. In a non-executive capacity he has chaired the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, Babtie Group Ltd., the Scottish Media group PLC, Sagentia Group PLC, Voxar Ltd and the Festival City Theatres Trust in Edinburgh. He has also served on the boards of the John Wood Group, Alliance Trust, British Assets, Scottish Widows, Scottish Opera and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. A research chemist by training, he has extensive experience of international business, is a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and has received honorary degrees from the Universities of Strathclyde, St Andrews, Edinburgh and Dundee Abertay.

Professor Zoe Shipton, Professor of Geological Engineering, Department of Civil Engineering, Strathclyde University - Professor Shipton is a structural geologist working on fault growth processes, the link between faulting and fluid flow, and the structure of earthquake faults..

Professor Shipton has carried out consultancy work for Cluff Geothermal Limited, BHP Billiton, StatoilHydro and Todd Energy, and has held research grants from UK and Irish research councils, Total Oil, Geochemica, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, and Scottish Government.

Robert Gatliff, Director Energy and Marine Geoscience, British Geological Survey - Robert joined the BGS in 1976 as a geologist/sedimentologist and worked in the Industrial Minerals Assessment Unit until 1981 when he transferred to Edinburgh and joined the Hydrocarbons Unit which provides the Government with independent geological advice on oil and gas exploration and production.

Professor R. Stuart Haszeldine OBE, BSc (Edin), PhD (Strath), CGeol, FRSE, University of Edinburgh - Stuart Haszeldine has worked on coal, oil and gas deposits, with a wide interest in fossil fuels, radioactive waste disposal and environmental impact. He is Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at the University of Edinburgh, and his current research examines geological storage of CO2, in the context of climate change and changing energy use.

Professor Kenneth Sorbie, Cairn Energy Professor of Petroleum Engineering, Heriot-Watt University - Ken Sorbie is the Cairn Energy Professor of Petroleum Engineering in the Institute of Petroleum Engineering (IPE) at Heriot-Watt University (HWU). He has a first degree in Chemistry from Strathclyde University and a DPhil in Theoretical Chemistry/Applied Mathematics from the University of Sussex.

Professor Finlay Stuart, Professor of Isotope Geosciences, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) - Fin is Professor of Isotope Geosciences based at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in East Kilbride. He is the Head of Isotope Geochemistry at SUERC and maintains several laboratories. Fin has received funding from the UK Research Councils to apply his knowledge to characterising the source of natural gases around sites of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction and to fingerprint gases produced by burning hydrocarbons prior to underground injection.

Professor Susan Waldron, Professor of Biogeochemistry, University of Glasgow - Professor Waldron holds a personal chair in biogeochemistry in the School of Geographical & Earth Sciences at Glasgow University. Susan has received funding from the Natural Environment Research Council to apply her knowledge of isotope systematic to characterise the source of gases in the environment around sites of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction (2014-15 with Professor Stuart and Professor Haszeldine).

Professor Paul Younger FGS, C.Geol., FNEIMME, FICE, FIChemE, C.Sci., C.Eng., FREng. Rankine Chair of Engineering, Professor of Energy Engineering - University of Glasgow - Paul Younger has a diverse background, ranging from pure science (geology), water resources and environmental engineering (especially groundwater engineering), mining environmental engineering and energy engineering. Paul has direct first-hand experience of drilling and pumping fresh groundwater worldwide, and has drilled several deep geothermal boreholes, using technology adapted from the petroleum sector.

Professor James Curran MBE BA BSc PhD MInstP FRMetS CMet CPhys CEng - James has worked in environmental science and regulation for 30 years. He has been a consultant to the Scottish Office and was for some years the Head of Science with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and then Head of Environmental Strategy. In 2006 he co-founded and ran Entrading, a sustainable retailer. Later he took up a post, again with SEPA, first as Director Science and Strategy and now as Chief Executive. Professor Curran has no professional interests in, or connection to, the energy industries or coal, oil and gas in particular.

The Expert Scientific Panel was to convened by the Scottish Government to deliver:

  • a robust, well-researched evidence base relating to unconventional oil & gas, upon which the Scottish Government can reliably base its policy that benefits the people of Scotland;
  • a well-developed narrative on the environmental and regulatory issues associated with unconventional gas;
  • an assessment of the resources available to Scotland.