Renewable links with Isles move a step closer

Last week the abundant renewable energy potential of the Scottish Isles and Islands took a step closer to being unlocked.

A report published last week for the Scottish and UK Governments by consultancy group Xero Energy has highlighted the actions which will need to be taken to ensure that the renewable resources available in areas such as the Shetland and Orkney Islands are available to the mainland. Much work will need to carried out to ensure that grid infrastructure is improved.

The key findings of the report are to considered by the intergovernmental Scottish Islands Renewables Group. These meetings are part of an ongoing collaborative process between the two governments to ensure that both Scottish and UK Renewable Energy 2020 targets are reached. Some of the reports key findings are as follows; certainty has to be provided for developers around the longevity of support from government which underpins the business case for sub-sea grid development,  the stability of grid charges, loan charges, and research funding support for grid connections for marine technologies such as tidal turbines.

One of the proposed sub-sea cables would stretch 50 miles (80 kilometres) from Gravis on the Isle of Lewis to Ullapool on the North-Western coast of Scotland. This cable would then link up to Beauly to Denny powerline. Great strides have been made on the Isles to unlock their renewable resources (work in which we at Intelligent Land Investments (Renewable Energy) have been involved in) but grid connections have to be improved to allow power to be exported to the mainland.

Commenting on the publication of the report Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing commented:

“I welcome the publication of the Xero report, which will help us to address the critical remaining barriers to new transmission connections for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland Islands.

“The three island groups share significant challenges in getting grid connections off the drawing board in time to access support within the timeframe of the first Electricity Market Reform Delivery due to long lead-times and high costs for sub-sea connections – typically, upwards of four years to achieve approval and to build. The findings from this report will help us deal with these issues.

“There is wide acknowledgement across both the Scottish and UK Governments that the Scottish islands hold huge renewable energy potential, which could make a substantial contribution to both governments’ 2020 renewable energy targets and longer-term climate change ambitions.

“Our collaborative approach is based on this shared understanding, and through the work of the inter-governmental Scottish Islands Renewables Group, we will continue to build momentum towards delivery of these vital connections.”

UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey also released a statement:

“This report will play an important part in the next stage of our partnership work for renewable energy from the Scottish islands. We have already made more progress in the last year than for many years, after the UK Government announced last December additional support for onshore wind projects, with a special higher Scottish Islands strike price. While that initiative itself should unlock much potential green energy, I’m determined to tackle remaining issues despite the complexity involved.”

Last week also saw the publication of the Scottish Government’s Good Practice Principles for Community Benefits from Onshore Renewable Developments following an extensive period of consultation. These Principles have been designed to ensure that communities benefit from renewable energy developments in their area. The Scottish Government has already established a register of community benefits to allow communities to make sure they receive an appropriate  level of community benefit.

The key principle which has been unveiled is the promotion of a national community benefits package rate equivalent of at least £5,000 per Megawatt per year – index linked to inflation for the operational lifespan of developments. This would mean that, for example, a 20 Megawatt wind would generate a community benefit of at least £100,000 per year. At this point we are pleased to tell you that all of our developments at ILI (RE) already meet these requirements. All of our onshore wind developments have always included a community benefit which is directed to our local charity partners to ensure that communities benefit from our developments; even at the time when community benefits were not required by either national or local authorities.

Another key proposal of the new guidance is to encourage developers to to submit information on community benefits at the earliest possible stage of development. This is to allow communities to consider any proposals and develop ideas as to where such funding would be directed. Again we at ILI (RE) have always been proud of our community benefits and charity partnerships and have always sought to make local authorities aware of these.

Speaking at the fifth annual Scottish Highland Renewable Energy Conference Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing launched the publication of the Principles:

“Community benefits from renewable energy offer a unique and unprecedented opportunity to communities across Scotland. Today, I can confirm that there is now around 285 megawatts of such capacity operational across Scotland. That puts us well over half way towards the target, and represents an increase of 40 per cent on the previous year’s figure.

“The Good Practice Principles is a landmark moment in encouraging developers to invest in community benefit schemes arising from renewables development and overall contribute to our target.

“This Guidance has drawn mainly on experience from the onshore wind sector but the Scottish Government would like to see community benefits promoted across all renewables technologies.

“This document details good practice principles and procedures promoted by Scottish Government, and is intended as a practical guide to the process but also, through examples of what is already being achieved, as a showcase to inspire success.

“Featured schemes include the Allt Dearg Community Wind Farm, which, through partial community-ownership, generated £130,000 for the Ardrishaig Community Trust in the first nine months of operation to September 2013, and which is expected to generate £100,000 in annual income to the Trust.

“The Scottish Government is very keen to see other communities get the chance to invest in local developments like this, and that is why as part of the Principles we have set up a short-term industry working group to develop guidance to encourage community investment in commercial renewables schemes.”

Finally, this week saw the publication of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s latest (and ninth) quarterly Public Attitudes Tracker. The survey was conducted in over 2,000 UK households in late March and has allowed the government to keep track of public opinion and support for renewable energy. The results of the survey have revealed that public support for renewable energy has remained strong.

Indeed, 80% of respondents stated that they “supported the use of renewable energy to provide the UK’s electricity, fuel and heat”. Public levels of support have remained strong over the two year period in which these surveys have been carried out. This is despite the anti-renewables line taken by some mainstream media outlets over the course of this period. A majority of 59% of respondents stated that they would be happy to have a large scale renewable energy development in their area. This is a 4% increase compared to the survey published in March 2012 perhaps suggesting that more and more people are realizing the necessity of increasing the UK’s renewable energy capacity and the benefits which a renewable energy development can bring to an area.

It is also interesting to note that public support for individual forms of renewable energy generation have been unaffected by negative coverage in some parts of the media. Public support for onshore wind energy has reached an all time high of 70% indicating the public desire for more onshore wind developments. Both solar and offshore wind also saw record levels of support of  85% and 77% respectively.

One reason suggested for the entrenchment of public support for renewable energy is the increasing level of concern about climate change. According to survey climate change and energy security are now the joint fourth “biggest challenges facing the UK today”. The link between renewable energy and concern about climate change was illustrated by the publication of a report by the United Nations a few weeks ago; which outlined in the strongest possible terms that it is only through greatly increased use of renewable energy that disastrous climate change may be avoided.

With the media’s role in shaping public opinion on matters of energy generation under the spotlight it is extremely interesting to read the survey results on shale gas fracking. Some aspects are hugely in favor of shale gas fracking and have promoted it accordingly. Public awareness of the process of fracking has increased. In March 2013 48% of survey respondents were unaware of the process; this has now decreased to 25%. But, increased awareness has not translated into increased support. Under 30% of respondents supported shale gas fracking; very much a minority and very much in contrast to the majority support received by renewable energy.

Reading the news this week one can see the image of a renewably powered UK beginning to take shape. With a majority of the public in favor, community benefit guidelines being established and moving a step closer to unlocking the renewable potential of the Scottish Isles one can see the direction in which we are heading. We at ILI (RE) look forward to playing our part in realizing this.

Island Interconnectors would qualify for Green Bank funding

Aside

Mike Mackenzie, MSP for the Highlands and Islands region, has confirmed with the UK’s Green Investment Bank that projects involving the installation of interconnectors  to Scotland’s Islands would fit their funding criteria.

The installation of interconnectors would offer several benefits to both residents of the islands and the mainland. Interconnectors would allow for renewable energy which is being generated on the islands to be transmitted to the mainland. This would open up a a large amount of renewable energy capacity to the UK’s electricity grid. Some of the country’s most suitable sites for renewable energy development, particularly in the marine and offshore wind sectors, are to be found in the isles. However the relative lack of energy demand on the islands acts as a hindrance to such developments. The installation of interconnectors would not only help to provide additional energy security to the UK’s electricity consumers and help to keep energy prices down it would also provide inward investment to the people of the islands.

The Green Investment Bank, which was launched in 2012, was established to provide funding to projects which would “accelerate the UK’s transition to a  green economy”. Already funding has been provided to a wide variety of projects including offshore wind farms, several biomass projects and hospital energy efficiency schemes. Interconnector projects, which would open up so much potential energy generation, would very possibly fall under the umbrella of offshore wind or marine energy projects which are at this time considered to be a priority by the Green Investment Bank.

An example of the projects which could proceed given the installation of interconnectors would be the proposed Beaw Field wind farm on the isle of Shetland. It has already been confirmed that the proposed project, which could produce up to 100 megawatts of power, will only proceed if an interconnector is installed between Shetland and the mainland. The installation of an interconnector itself is dependant upon another develoment on the isle proceeding – the 457MW Viking Energy wind farm which has been granted planning permission. The nature of these two schemes also demonstrates the onshore wind potential of the Islands.

Confirmation was gained by Mr Mackenzie at last week’s meeting of the Scottish Governments Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, which was taking evidence from the Green Investment Bank’s Chairman, Chief Executive and Operation’s Director. When asked by Mr Mackenzie if the Bank would consider investment in interconnector projects Sean Kingsley, Chief Executive, responded that he felt this to be a “great idea”.

Following the conclusion of the committee Mr Mackenzie made the following comment:

“This is fantastic news for the Highlands and Islands. I am pleased to see that there is a possibility of investment from the Green Investment Bank and I will be following up today’s exchange in the committee with a letter to the bank to try and help turn those words into action.”

“Renewable energy projects, both large and small, on Scotland’s Islands are currently disadvantaged because they are unable to transport their energy to the grid. Because of their great natural resources their potential is massive – as the recent Scottish Islands Renewable Report illustrated –New submarine cables [interconnectors] are urgently needed to transport the significant amounts of renewable electricity which can be generated on Scotland’s islands to mainland consumers, so these interconnectors would be a great low-risk investment for the bank.

“I sincerely hope that this investment possibility is followed up by the bank, and I look forward to hearing further from them on this matter.”

Additionally, last week the BBC carried out an energy survey as part of Radio Five Live’s Energy Day. Energy Day saw an entire day’s worth of programming transmitted from a temporary studio powered entirely by renewable energy. Energy was generated from a variety of sources including solar panels, onshore wind turbines and even exercise bikes!

The survey, which interviewed 1035 adults, found that a significant majority of the public would be happy to see renewable energy developments take place in their local area. 67% of those surveyed would be happy to see more wind farms and 84% gave their approval to more solar developments.This is in stark contrast to shale gas fracking which found support from a minority of only 33% of the population.

Dale Vince, founder of British green energy company Ecotricty remarked; “The fact 67% of people support having more wind farms in their area is not a surprise at all – every public survey for the past two decades has come back with the same result.”

The survey also revealed the existence of  a generation gap in feelings towards renewable energy. Whilst a majority of 54% of those aged over 65 said they would be happy to see more wind energy developments in their local area this figure rose significantly to 82% of those aged between 25-34. It has often been said that renewable energy is the future. Demographics would seem to support this opinion.

The UK has some of the best renewable energy development potential in the world and the Scottish Islands have some of the best renewable energy development potential in the UK.  The installation of interconnectors between the Islands and the mainland would unlock a large amount of this potential. Providing energy security for all and much needed  inward investment to some of the country’s most isolated communities.

 

New surveys reveals continuing support for renewable energy

The Department of Energy and Climate Change published it’s sixth quarterly tracker survey yesterday.

The survey is carried out every three months to monitor the public’s attitudes to the government’s energy policies. Face to face interviews were carried out at 2,124 households in early July. The published results confirm that the public’s support for renewable energy remains widespread.

76% of those polled stated that they supported or strongly supported the continuing use and expanding development of the UK’s vast renewable energy resources.

Whilst this represents a very slight decline from previous survey results it should be pointed out that the poll was conducted at the height of the shale gas industry’s media blitz, particularly within the right wing press.

This media campaign does not appear to have had the desired affect. There was no change in the level of people who oppose or strongly oppose renewable energy. Only 5% of those polled gave this opinion; demonstrating that this view remains the preserve of an extremist minority. It is also worth making the point that despite much lobbying those parts of the UK which have been proposed as areas suitable for shale gas exploration, or fracking, have seen widespread and organised protests against the proposals.

18% of those surveyed commented that they had no opinion on renewable energy development. This equals the highest level recorded since the surveys were first carried out. Again this suggests that the campaign against renewables in some parts of the media is failing to have the desired affect.

The poll also revealed further positive news for the renewable energy industry. 71% of the people polled gave the opinion that they believe renewable energy to be economically beneficial to the UK. This is a 2% increase from the 69% of people who gave this opinion in the previous survey. Furthermore, 56% revealed that they would be happy to have a large scale renewable development in their local area. Again this was an increase from the previous poll in which 55% gave this opinion. The upwards trend of these opinions can perhaps be attributed to the fact that more renewable energy developments have came online in the time between the two surveys. More people have had a chance to see the economic benefits of renewable energy development in terms of community contributions and job creation. As the positive impacts of renewable energy are felt more widely one can expect the upwards trend of such opinions to continue.

The survey broke down support levels for individual forms of renewable energy generation: 81% stated their support for solar energy, 72% for wave and tidal energy, 71% for offshore wind generation, 65% for onshore wind generation and 60% for biomass. It has been suggested that the reason  wave and tidal and offshore wind have polled so highly is due their relatively low visual impact as opposed to their cost effectiveness; a standard in which other technologies such as onshore wind rank far higher.

In contrast to the continuing support for renewable energy nuclear power saw its support amongst the public continue to decline. Only 37% of those involved in the poll gave their support to its use in the UK. The level of support for nuclear has declined of several quarterly surveys and one can perhaps expect this trend to continue given the continued presence of the Fukushima disaster in the news. 25% of those polled opposed the use of nuclear power (contrasted with the 5% who did not support nuclear) and 35% had no opinion. The decline in support for nuclear as well as the uncertainty surrounding the prospects of new nuclear plants being built indicates that renewables will very much remain key to UK government energy policy.

DECC has long maintained that it regards the future of UK energy generation to be the use of a variety of different energy sources; what is often referred as the ‘mixed portfolio’. This stance continues to have a strong level of support from the UK public with 81% of those polled giving their backing to this policy.

The poll has revealed some of the issues which DECC is facing in terms of public awareness. 74% of people polled commented that they had thought ‘a fair amount’ or indeed a lot about home energy efficiency. Despite this and the launch of the Green Deal this year 47% revealed that they had never heard of smart meters. More will need to be done in this area but it should be noted that this figure represents an improvement on the 53% who gave the same answer in the previous quarter. Additionally the widespread roll out of smart meters (all homes and businesses are expected to have smart meters installed by 2020) is not scheduled to begin until 2015.

The fact that there exists a majority consensus on climate change is also good news for the renewable industry with 66% of the public fairly or very concerned about the issue. 38% of those polled attributed climate change mainly or entirely to human causes. 42% felt that it was being caused by a combination of human and natural causes and only 12% giving the opinion that it was being caused mainly or solely due to natural developments. These results indicate that the debate on the widespread use of renewable energy is far better placed in the UK than it is in a country such as the United States where the climate change debate is far more divisive both publicly and politically. A consensus existing on climate change means that the debate can move forward to how best to address it; which renewable energy generation can play an extremely major part in doing.

Support for renewable energy remains widespread in the UK. It is our hope that we at ILI (Renewable Energy) can do our part to increase it.

 

Majority of UK Public Support Renewables

A survey published last weekend in the Sunday Times has revealed that public support for renewable energy remains strong across the political spectrum. Support for renewable energy continues to outstrip support for shale gas developments despite a concentrated and sustained media campaign by shale gas companies.

The survey, carried out by YouGov, polled 1,952 people, establishing their political preferences and asked them if they were in favour of financial support for a variety of energy generation technologies. The poll revealed that a majority of all four political parties supporters were in favour of continued funding for renewable technologies such as wind and tidal power.

Regardless of political opinion, a majority of 65% were in favour of continuing support for the wind industry. This was a strong result given the continuing campaign against the industry in some parts of the media. 76% of those polled were in favour of financial support for the embryonic tidal power industry and 79% were favourable to continued support for solar power. These poll results seem to indicate that a consensus exists among the public in regards to renewable energy generation. Nearly two-thirds of those polled are of the opinion that renewable energy is the solution both to rising energy prices and climate change. This is reflected in the poll results for fossil fuel use. Only 40% of those polled were in favour of financial support for shale gas despite the optimistic estimates made in some parts of the media about it’s potential impact upon the domestic energy market. This belief in renewable energy was also seen in the fact that only 49% of those polled were in favour of financial support for nuclear support. This is despite the fact that new nuclear power generation will not be able to go ahead in this country without very heavy financial support from the government.

Shale gas has rapidly become a concern for many people within the UK; as demonstrated by the anti-fracking protest groups which are springing up across the country. Such concerns are reflected in the polling data. For example, 47% of those polled considered shale gas extraction (fracking) to be damaging to the environment. Only 31% believed that this was not the case. Furthermore, 43% of people felt that shale gas development would be harmful to their local area. Only 25% of people would be happy to see fracking proceed in their locality.

The fact that UKIP were included as one of the political party preferences demonstrates their growth; particularly in England. The party has often been perceived as an extremist (in some regards) offshoot of the Conservative party. One would expect therefore their supporters to be strongly anti-renewables. However, 51% of polled UKIP supporters were in favour of financial support for wind power and 76% in favour of support for marine energy. These results correlate with an earlier survey which found that voters favour politicians who actively support wind power. Public support for wind energy generation continues to be strong.

RenewableUK‘s Director of External Affairs, Jennifer Webber released the following statement about the poll results:

“Poll after poll shows that voters value low carbon technologies such as wind and tidal power. This latest poll shows that there’s not a single age group or voting demographic where a majority of people don’t want financial support for wind. It’s clear that for politicians, whether they’re UKIP, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour that further development of our natural wind and marine resources is the way to go.

“With a recent study from Cardiff University showing that over 80% of people are worried about becoming overly dependent on energy from other countries, it’s important that confidence is retained for domestic low carbon producers. Wind provided enough power for the equivalent of 4.5 million homes last year and needs to play an increasing role in our electricity provision. If we press strongly on, as supporters of all political parties are urging, we can also build on our offshore and marine supply chain to create tens of thousands of jobs over the next decade”.

In other news, several major turbine manufacturers are collaborating together on solutions to reduce bird fatalities caused by turbine blades. The project is being led by Energy Norway, includes contributions from Statoil, Vatenfall, Trønder Energi Kraft, NVE and NINA, and is supported by the Research Council of Norway. Although research has demonstrated that turbines have no long term impact on bird populations and indeed cause less fatalities than traffic or domestic cats bird deaths remains an issue for some members of the public. This new pilot scheme will test whether painting some parts of wind turbines black (for instance one of the turbine blades or part of the tower) can increase their visibility to bird species and reduce collisions. The use of ultraviolet paint (which is invisible to the human eye) is also being explored. Trials are to be carried out at the 68 turbine Smøla wind farm in Northern Norway. Whilst any step which can be taken to reduce collisions is welcome it should be remembered that the most significant steps taken to avoid harming bird populations are carried out at the planning stage. Stringent planning requirements exist in Scotland (and the wider UK) to ensure that turbines are placed in areas in which they will have a minimal impact on protected species, large populations and migratory routes. However, if such schemes can further minimise bird deaths then they be welcomed by both the wind industry and the public.

Wind power continues to receive the support of the British public. But the result of this fact must not be complacency.The wind power industry must continue to get it’s message across. And programs such as that being trailed in Norway can only help to do so.

Shale Gas Protest in Blackpool

It has recently been announced that a three day protest is planned to take place against the drilling for Shale Gas which has been carried out at a site outside of Blackpool. The protest, which is due to take place in September, will take place near the village of Singleton in a field next to the drilling site. The field has already been dubbed ‘Camp Frack‘.

Test drilling had been carried out at the site by the company Cuadrilla Resources in March but was later suspended after earthquakes occurred in the area in April and May. These earthquakes took place over the period in which fluids were being injected into rock to cause fracture and release the shale gas; the process known as fracking. Cuadrilla Resources stated that the earthquakes were unconnected to the drilling but doubts were expressed by some geologists including the British Geological Survey.

A meeting was held on the issue of Shale Gas  on the 19th of July in London. Caroline Lucas, Leader of the UK Green Party, was in attendance and commented that: “It is deeply irresponsible to try to extract this gas. It is a dirty, dangerous and dodgy energy supply which is still not understood well enough.” A number of issues surround the process of Shale Gas Extraction and questions have been raised on it’s true carbon footprint and the environmental impact the process itself and the disposal of waste materials has.

The UK debate is taking place at a time when the extraction process of fracking has just been banned in France. France became the first country in the world to ban commercial fracking on the 30th of June. This saw the banning bill successfully pass through both Houses of the French Parliament.  The bill passed through the House of Representatives on the 21st of July and on the 30th it was passed by the Senate following a vote of 176 to 151. The vote was divided along party lines with the majority conservative party in favour whilst the opposition voted against. However, it seems that many of the votes against were due to the feeling that the bill failed to go far enough rather than because of any objection to the ban itself. This feeling was voiced by the Socialist Party in particular who criticised the bill for leaving open a number of loopholes and for allowing methods of extraction other than fracking to be used. An earlier version of the bill proposed to ban any development of Shale Gas Extraction altogether and was supported by the Socialist Party.

As a result of the bill companies which are currently in possession of permits for drilling in French oil shale deposits have been given two months to inform the French Government what extraction technique they are using. If they are using fracking or fail to respond to the request then their permits will be automatically revoked.

The French Bill looks unlikely to be replicated in Britain with a number of MPs arguing that the potential environmental problems caused by fracking can be overcome through tight regulation and good industry practise. Shale Gas is increasingly been seen as a ‘transitional alternative’ to coal due to the (disputed) lower carbon emissions it produces. Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre for climate change research that Shale Gas could not be an alternative to coal: “It is not a substitute. My fear is that it will be combusted as well as coal. The Shale Gas industry recently announced that it expected that 35% of the increase in all gas production by 2035 would come from Shale. The former Energy Minister Michael Meacher, speaking at the London meeting, voiced his concerns over a large scale expansion in the world wide use of Shale Gas: “That is a huge shift from conventional fossil fuels to unconventional sources. But it is a big risk because the US industry is very poorly regulated and companies do not have to disclose the chemicals that they use.”

With the protests set to go ahead it seems that there is a growing awareness of the threat that Shale Gas poses not just to the British environment but also to the British Renewable Industry.

 

Shale Gas Waste Water Poisonous?

A recent report published by the U.S. Forest Service in the Journal of Environmental Quality has found that the ‘waste water’ left over from the process of shale gas extraction known as fracking can be extremely damaging, indeed lethal, to vegetation. This is on top of other possible side effects of the process; such as earthquakes and combustible water.

In 2008 an area of land less than half an acre in area had 75,000 gallons of fluid that had been used in the fracking process spead over it over a period of two days. This section of the Fernow Experimental Forest (found within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia) which the Forest Service uses for research and is also being drilled by the gas company Berry Energy was then absorbed to see if the fluid had had any ecological impact. Almost all of the ground vegetation in the area died within an extremely short period following the releases of the fluid. Within a few days trees had begun to shed leaves which were at this point brown and wilted. Of 150 affected tress 56% would eventually die. The exact chemical composition of the waste water was not known as such information is considered to be proprietary by shale gas drilling companies. The Forest Service determined that the chemical make-up of the water was mainly sodium and calcium chloride as high levels of these compounds were found to be present in the topsoil.

Several states in the U.S. allow such waste water to be disposed of on land and issue permits for this purpose indicating that such types of pollution could increase as the shale gas industry develops. The Forest Service’s research concluded that it should be a ‘high priority’ to determine ways in which vegetation could be protected during land disposal of waste water and to develop a dosing standard for waste water.

It seems that new ways in which shale gas extraction pollutes and damages the environment are being found with regularity.

Shale Gas and Scotland. Should fracking be banned?

Shale gas extraction could be coming to Scotland. The highly controversial process, known as fracking, being pushed as ‘green’ by the fossil fuel industry, could soon begin in the country if a company is given permission to begin exploratory drilling at Aith near Falkirk. This is despite the fact that the process has already been banned in France and drilling has been suspended in England.

Exploratory drilling has been carried out at site near Blackpool over a period of months but has ceased following increased seismic activity in the area. On the 27th of May Lancashire felt the rumbling of an earthquake which measured a magnitude of 1.5 on the Richter scale. This is the second earthquake in the area since April and many experts have suggested a link with the drilling and the process of fracking – in which water and rock-dissolving chemicals are injected underground at extremely high pressure to break apart shale rock and release gas. Mark Miller, CEO of Cuadrilla Resources (the company carrying out the drilling) commented: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have stopped fracking operations to share information and consult with the relevant authorities and other experts”

“We expect that this analysis and subsequent consultation will take a number of weeks to conclude and we will decide on appropriate actions after that.”

The British Geological Survery, who are carrying out the investigation released this statement on their website: “Any process that injects pressurised water into rocks at depth will cause the rock to fracture and possibly produce earthquakes.

“It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering, such as shale gas, processes can result in earthquake activity.”

Whilst an increase in seismic activity seems to be one of the downsides of shale gas extraction there are other apparent dangers inherent in the process of fracking. Fracking releases methane (more than 20 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. A study published in the Climate Change letters journal extimated that 4-8% of the methane produced by shale gas production escapes in to the atmosphere via leaks and venting over the lifetime of a well. It went on to conclude that shale gas had the same or even a slightly higher carbon footprint than coal which has long been considered the ‘dirtiest’ fossil fuel. Despite this there are many powerful lobbying groups pushing shale gas as the ‘alternative’ to fossil fuels.

Craig Bennett, policy and campiagns director at Friends of the Earth stated: “Instead of seeing shale gas as a miracle fix, the government should focus on developing the clean, safe energy alternatives at our fingertips like solar power and wind.

“Shale gas is a dangerous distraction from the urgent need for us to tackle climate change. Chasing after risky and hard-to-get fossil fuels like shale gas, tar sands or drilling for oil in the Arctic may seriously undermine the move towards renewables as the only effective and sustainable solution to our energy challenges.”

Perhaps the most damaging environmental impact of shale gas extraction is the risk it poses to the water supply. Methane from shale gas can leak into and contaminate groundwater. In some extreme cases even rendering water flammable. Methane levels in water supplies close to shale gas extraction sites in Pennsylvania and upstate New York have been found to be up to 17 times higher than normal. 85% of drinking water wells within 1km of such sites was found to be contaminated and in some cases homeowners have been issued with gas detectors to lower the risk of explosion . One company in Pennsylvania has been banned from drilling for a year because a faulty well led to water pollution. Recent American research has found over 1000 cases of water contamination as a result of shale gas extraction.

Despite all of this a recent Commons report ruled that “There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of fracking itself and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained shale gas extraction should be safe.” Emphasis on should.

The European Climate Foundation has warned that: “Heavy dependency on gas…is not a viable alternative to a low-carbon generation network with low dependence on fossil fuels in terms of cost, energy security or climate resilience…

“It will make Europe dependent on one potentially cost-volatile solution, and the successful commercialization of carbon capture and storage at an unrealistically large scale. It also reduces Europe’s energy security [Europe has far fewer shale gas reserves than the US or Asia].”

Shale gas is seemingly a high risk venture. Earthquakes, exploding water, exploding prices, and a serious risk to Scotland’s fledgling green energy sector. The Director of WWF Scotland, Dr Richard Dixon commented that: “Whether the shale gas drilling and the earthquake were linked certainly needs investigated. However, we already know enough about the environmental problems associated with fracking to know that it should be banned in Scotland.

“Shale gas would be a disaster for the climate and its production could contaminate groundwater. Scotland should follow France’s example and ban it before it even gets going. Scotland should become the home of clean energy not another dirty fossil-fuel. Shale gas projects in Scotland would quickly tarnish our global claim to green credentials.”

What do you think? Should Scotland ban fracking and shale gas extraction?