Coastal Paradises Set to Become Coal Gas Experiments

 Laura Eaton-Lewis discusses the wider energy debate and the threat to our water, our soil and our food systems, arguing that, or all the rhetoric around energy security, we need to make decisions that put the emphasis on ‘security’ and the long-term.

I moved to the seaside when I was three months pregnant with my first child, filled with dreams of bringing up my family in a beautiful outdoors environment as part of a community that was creating a sustainable world for the next generation.

Like most of my generation, we barely scraped into the bracket of ‘homeowner’ at all. Despite both of us working good jobs, cycling everywhere, not being big consumers, eating locally produced food, we were so skint that even after years of saving and planning, we knew we’d only ever be able to afford a small flat. Not a castle. No rose garden, no garden in fact, but we lucked out and found somewhere beautiful and wholesome by the sea. The dream really had come true. Or so we had hoped.

People in our coastal towns care deeply about the place where they live, whether they are incomers or from generations back. We are entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, journalists…there is much expertise and experience, wisdom and good judgement, energy and commitment in our towns. We have a personal stake in seeing our community through the long-term. We will directly bear the consequences of whatever happens here. We will be the ones to pick up the pieces or celebrate in our achievements.

An increasing number of us have become concerned because we have discovered there are two pieces of legislation being forced upon us, regardless of our wishes. Many of us began gathering together late last year to begin to discuss some of these issues, and we realised that we need to take the opportunity to create the kind of community that we can live in and thrive. We want future generations to be able to look back, not in anger, but in thanks at the society we have built for them.

The changes to the law that the UK government plan to implement will undermine democracy and your human right to respect for your home.

Firstly, ministers are currently negotiating a massive trade deal, in secret, at speed, and without any public consultation. Our elected representatives in Holyrood and Westminster are not party to the details or implications of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. They will get no vote on this. Leaked documents in Europe have led us to understand that this deal will allow multinational companies to take governments to court for having any laws that mean they could make less profit than they’d ideally like. This will make a farce of our democracy, and making the public pay compensation for ‘loss of profits’.

If an American company decides it’s inconvenient that we have laws that protect workers and public health, preventing companies from carrying out noxious activities, they would be able to sue us and create a race to the bottom to lower our protective laws to that of the US.

This has implications for the second issue. Multinational companies have been lobbying our governments in Holyrood and Westminster for many years, to have them change the law so that these companies can have the right to drill under our communities and leave ‘any substance’ under the ground, where it has the potential to leak into the ground water supply.

In September of last year, I discovered that despite massive public opposition, new legislation was being introduced through the unelected House of Lords to allow fracking companies to apply for planning consent without notifying landowners, Without the required minimum period of 8 weeks’ public consultation, the bill which began and ended in the Lords was unopposed by MPs upon their return from the 2013 Xmas holidays; they confirmed they would not oppose changes to the law that would allow oil and gas extraction companies to drill within a designated area without landowners’ permission.

Despite promises to the contrary from the industry, the legislation was then changed again to allow fracking to take place under homes without their owners’ knowledge’, then, in late September last year, it was announced the UK government would at that time be unopposed by Labour in implementing further changes to prevent landowners from withholding permission to fracture the ground below their feet.

This is deeply undemocratic and takes away people’s right to decide what happens to their land, their homes and their communities.

I wonder how many of these Lords or ministers with money vested in the UK fracking sector know how it feels to really ‘invest’ in a community. In every part of Scotland, where once there was devastation left by the mining industry (and then more devastation left by its demise), people have come together to rebuild. It has taken time for the air to clear, for the water to become clean enough to bathe your children in again, for the soil to become fertile enough to grow organic food. The people here have created something much better than was here before, they’re in the process of creating a healthy environment, where the word ‘community’ means something again, where people are working together to grow food and plan for community renewable energy generation, sharing resources and creating mutual support networks, building community boats and reclaiming our waters with wild swimming.

The word ‘investment’ used to mean something different. It used to mean putting some effort, care and resource into something to make it better in the long run. Now the word has come to be associated with a different set of behaviours, annexing and extracting the wealth out of something before leaving it decimated, such as happened in the Phones 4 U scandal.

Who, I ask, is better placed to make a judgement about what our historic seaside towns need? A few rich men in Westminster who stand to get richer still? Or the people who live here and love this place?

For all the rhetoric around energy security, we need to make decisions that put the emphasis on ‘security’ and the long term. We are the ones who care most about our children’s future and given proper evidence we can decide whether we would be better off with community owned wind-turbines at Seafield, or underground coal gasification at Forth Ports in Grangemouth, Kincardine, Leven, Kirkcaldy, Methil, Leith and Cockenzie.

We want access to facts, such as the knowledge that Scotland will have generated 50% of its electricity needs through renewables this year, that despite underinvestment, jobs in renewables in Scotland are currently over 11,000. Facts such as according to the British Geological Survey, all the shale gas and coal gas resource in the UK would only power the country for two years at best. Or evidence such as the economic cost of oil and gas versus renewables, such as the fact that the public purse gave out £2.6bn in subsidies (the size of the austerity cuts) to the oil and gas sector plus 30% tax breaks. In an industry that generated £10.6bn of tax revenues in 2011 from Scottish waters alone, that represents around £3-4bn.

Adding those figures up, every year the public purse gives the oil and gas sector between £5-6bn, compared to only £300m for the renewables sector (and a bill is to be presented in the UK parliament to abolish onshore wind subsidies altogether). We have a responsibility to weigh all of this up against the environmental security of climate change. We should take that responsibility very seriously and facts such as in 2013 renewable electricity generation displaced approximately 11,900,000 tonnes of CO2, equal to around 22.5 per cent of Scotland’s carbon emissions in 2012, are significant factors.

We should be able to judge whether we are truly getting ‘energy security’ and ‘economic security’, and if either of those things are more important than public health and species security. If unconventional gas extraction processes are safe, let us be the judge of that; give us the long-range public health studies. If it’s going to benefit our seaside towns to have trucks barreling through loaded with water and effluent to service 100 or so wells (such as was planned for Airth Stirlingshire), for the sake of a handful of short-term jobs, let us be the judge of that.

Environmental groups claim there is a failure rate of 40-60% on these wells, and the lowest figure I ever heard was from a geological engineer in the industry in Australia who told me it was only a 2% failure rate. At 100 wells, that’s two wells leaking fracking fluid and contaminated return water into our aquifers. He told me there was nothing in the public domain that could prove his claims that it was safe. We are intelligent people, we can make decisions for ourselves. Show us the evidence, the 20-year studies that have been conducted in cities like ours with geography like ours, please give us scientific proof that our tenements built on top of coal mines will stay standing and our water unpolluted. But as yet, no such proof exists, and this is why it has been banned in New York, France and Canada.

Recently there has been much politicking by all the political parties except the Tories who maintain a stance that they are ‘all out for unconventional gas’ and the Greens who want a ban on it.

The Scottish Government, who have power to grant planning, announced a ‘moratorium’ on onshore unconventional gas extraction – not a ban, but a pause in the planning process whilst they gather more evidence, environmental impact studies and a public consultation. It is welcome news that they, at least, are listening to the Scottish people, but I am wary that this may just prove a PR exercise until after the election.

Besides, by far and away the bigger threat we face on the Firth of Forth is Underground Coal Gasification whereby many companies plan to collect gas by setting fire to the coal underneath the Forth estuary. This, according to Fergus Ewing, is not covered by Scotland’s regulations, despite him saying very clearly in 2013 in parliamentary questions that UCG would be regulated by SEPA and Local Authority Planning consents, and therefore DOES come under Scottish Government power.

I wrote to him last week to ask for clarification on the matter and why the Scottish Government would not commit to the principle of protecting public safety by including UCG in this pause in planning consents and gathering of environmental impact assessments… I have yet to receive a reply, but will update this when I do.

The truth of the matter is that despite claims by the Labour party to have achieved ‘stronger regulations’ in the vote that took place on 28 January this year, their proposals would still have left the UK with a weaker regulatory framework than elsewhere in the world. But it was lucky for the Conservatives that even Labour’s own peers decided to vote against their own MPs’ amendment, and instead accepted a watered down amendment from the Tories and Lib Dems, which now allows this activity to take place in national parks, areas of natural beauty and next to drinking water aquifers. Pretty scary stuff, and even the unconventional gas industry journal, Marine and Petroleum Geology confirms fissures can reach up to 600m in length.

In Australia, they have 2km buffer zones between communities. There is no buffer zone in the UK. According to the independent geologist and seismologist I interviewed, it’s industry standard everywhere else that seismic activity is limited to 2.5mag, however in the UK plans are for it to be up to 3.5 following claims (by an ‘independent academic’ who happens also to be an industry director and investor) that previous limits were too strict.

What has not been proven to be safe elsewhere in the world is being forced upon us, against democratic process, against the will of communities in conditions where we are not surrounded by space like the USA or Australia, in which a dense population lives in buildings that are on average 100 years older than theirs, in tall tenements, in historically mined and fractured ground. Fractures allow leaks, of waste fluid, of gases, of air. If the coal is set alight under the Forth, these fractures will become vents and prevent the fire being snuffed out.

It is worth mentioning at this point that several home insurance companies have now changed their exclusions so that if your home suffers damage and you live in an area where unconventional petroleum extraction has taken place, they will not cover your claim.

As a community we should have the information and the ability to make an informed choice whether to allow this to happen.

There are other options, better ways to achieve energy security, warm homes and a clean environment.

I wrote extensively about the potential for geothermal energy in Scotland here. We already have the potential to achieve 100% of the country’s electricity needs from geothermal energy alone. That’s energy that doesn’t run out, that will be still be heating the homes and powering the communities of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. If we have the capacity and the potential to do this NOW, why on earth is our government not pursuing this option? Why instead are they steam-rolling deeply unpopular legislation which is against the interests of public health and our climate change responsibilities?

If we want there to be any life at all for our grandchildren, we have to take our responsibility for global warming very, very seriously indeed.

Did you know that this unconventional gas, which our government is promoting, releases vast amounts of methane, which along with the methane released from the ice sheets is projected to cause apocalyptic climate change and the start of widespread extinction of the human race within decades?

Private corporations don’t have an interest in protecting public health or preventing climate change when, as in this case, to do so would threaten their profits. In Scotland, SEPA will not be collecting environmental samples, the companies themselves are only required to self-monitor and will continue their plans without independent scrutiny, or the democratic assent of the communities they will be affecting. In another piece of bad news for public health, the House of Lords UK infrastructure bill also removed the provision that would have made environmental impact assessments mandatory, while an EU court rules mandatory environmental impact assessments are not necessary for shale gas exploration – which means that there is now no way for communities to oppose these applications on environmental grounds, unless they have tens of thousands of pounds to fund their own Environmental Impact Assessment. Even if communities do this, it will likely be dismissed by the planning system because “the law” considers detailed assessment to be the responsibility and expertise of the regulators after the application is granted, even when the regulators do nothing, a legal precedent set by the failure of the Balcombe High Court appeal.

This is all very serious stuff, and it’s a responsibility that our governments are shirking so it is one that we as individuals will all need to bear together. We need to step up to the plate, as responsible custodians of the land in our communities, and citizens of a world which is teetering on the point of no return.

At a community meeting in November 2014, the people of my beautiful town decided that as a community they were not being given access to the democratic system, independent evidence-based information, and rights to make decisions about what happens to our homes, our children’s futures, the world we want to build.

At that meeting everybody talked in small groups about what they wanted to do and there was a collective agreement that we wanted to write a charter, a mandate for the community we wanted to live in. We have now begun that process, to set down the future life and rights of our citizens, which we hope will form a community mandate about the kind of industries, developments and planning we want in communities on the Forth Estuary.

We don’t want unconventional gas extraction to go ahead at all, we want to be safe and we want decisions that will affect our communities to be democratic. Our faith in our elected representatives has been betrayed by their willingness to act as if they were tightening regulations to gain plaudits, and then dismantle it all in the House of Lords when no one was looking. What kind of opposition is Labour, to play to the press and make people believe they had guaranteed safeguards and then vote their own amendment down? We deserve a proper democracy, not this sham. We don’t want experimental gas extraction in our communities because it cannot be done safely and it cannot be regulated safely.

If either the Scottish Government or Westminster Government were committed to public well-being, they would ensure at the very least:

1) a moratorium on ALL unconventional gas processes including Underground Coal Gasification until these could be proven to be safe over a 20 year period

2) full Environmental Impact Investigations as mandatory requirement, carried out at the licence holder’s cost

3) independent monitoring in place, at cost to the licence holder. 

4) community referendum on whether or not to grant planning to unconventional gas developments.

5) proper community restoration bonds (in independent funds, learning lessons from the scandal of underestimated bonds for opencast mining, making sure the figure is substantial enough to repair the damage)

6) 2km buffer zones between settlements and any drilling, as implemented in New South Wales, Australia

But I don’t see any of these rational, evidential safeguards in any of the legislation. Which is all the more surprising given that the UK Government’s own Environmental Audit Committee published the following last year:

‘Any large scale extraction of shale gas in the UK is likely to be at least 10-15 years away. It is also unlikely to be able to compete against the extensive renewable energy sector we should have by 2025-30 unless developed at a significant scale. By that time, it is likely that unabated coal-fired power generation will have been phased out to meet EU emissions directives, so fracking will not substitute for (more carbon-intensive) coal. Continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed our scope for fossil fuel energy, and as a consequence only a very small fraction of the possible shale gas deposits will be burnable.

A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid the UK’s carbon budgets being breached in the 2020s and beyond, and the international credibility of the UK in tackling climate change being critically weakened — already a prospect if the provisions in the Infrastructure Bill aimed at maximising North Sea oil extraction are passed.’

We are the people and we have the responsibility and the right to create a future for our families. If our governments can no longer be relied upon to protect our well-being and represent our wishes, we have no other option but to take this into our own hands.

Let’s get informed, let’s get organised.

Let’s decide what WE want for our communities.


Footnote on the current players in the unconventional gas Industry in Scotland:

(Thanks to Concerned Communities of Falkirk for the following information):

Lord Smith of Kelvin (Lord Smith of the Smith Commission, and of the ‘independent’ study into Unconventional Gas, commissioned by the UK government), was recently appointed as head of Forth Ports, which has an interest in unconventional gas exploitation. (Falkirk Herald As you might expect major players like Lord Smith of Kelvin offer a wealth of industrial experience and numerous strings to their bow, as covered in the Herald Scotland article dated, Sunday 5 May 2013.

Lord Smith of Kelvin is widely regarded as a big hitter with investments in fracking in USA, coming to head up Forth Ports, joining other major players in the energy field such as:

* Jim Ratcliffe (Ineos)
Recently signed a 15 year contract to import Ethane (Shale gas) from the U.S.A, commissioning eight supertankers for transport of Ethane to Grangemouth and Rafness, Norway. In addition Ineos upstream recently obtain two licence areas for drilling Shale gas in the Midland Valley (central Scotland) and have also made bids for further licenses from the UK Government (DECC) to increase this holding. The UK government (DECC) is yet to announce the winners of the latest 14th on-shore licensing round.

* Algy Cuff (Cluff Natural Resources, CNR)
Holders of multiple near shore licences for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG). CNR are looking to obtain planning permission for Underground Coal Gasification under the Firth of Forth Estuary at Kincardine bridge and other near shore areas along the UK coastline, including other parts of Scotland (Fife). UCG is an industrial process which literally sets fire to underground coal formations to make synthetic gas (Syngas). This industrial process additionally requires a purpose built processing plant to derive the synthetic gas.
It is worth noting that UCG has not been tried at any time within the UK.

* Andrew Austin (IGas)
Recently took over Dart Energy who have significant interests around Grangemouth for CBM & Shale gas in Scotland. IGas are currently the largest Unconventional Gas producer in the UK.
Prior to the IGas takeover of Dart Energy, Concerned Communities of Falkirk challenged the Dart Energy planning application at a Public Inquiry in Falkirk – The decision for the Public Inquiry was to be given by the Public Inquiry Reporter’s. However, this planning application was Called-in by the Scottish Government Ministers. The Scottish Government Minister’s decision is still pending.


Comments (48)

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  1. bringiton says:

    The claims from vested interests,industry and political figures,that we need fracking as part of an energy security policy need to be examined carefully.
    Energy security for who?
    Scotland already exports more energy than we use so fracking will add zero to keeping the lights on north of the border.
    The communities where this activity is proposed will bear all of the risks with marginal if any benefits but,unfortunately,since we voted to have No say in running our affairs,we are stuck with whatever London decides is in their best interests to happen in Scotland.
    I can’t see them taking money from companies for licenses only to have the process blocked by the parish council in Holyrood and would expect moves to be made to “repatriate” planning decisions where UK energy policy is affected.

    1. Brian Fleming says:

      Seems there is need for a new generation of Tommy Sheridans or (even better) William Wallaces to physically resist this destruction of homes and human habitat. They were able to intimidate the old folk, but, as the Proclaimers once sang:

      “What do you do when democracy falls through?
      What do you do when minority means you?”

      Scotland has to stand up and fight or it really will be “Scotland free or a desert”.

  2. Clootie says:

    As always – follow the money. The profits from this will not benefit Scotland (any token local award is an insult).
    A few people will make a great deal of money and they will not have to live with any of the consequences.

    Scotland has 25% of Europes renewable energy potential – Why would we accept fracking/coal gas or any other variation of onshore gas production? Renewables are forever – we need hydroelectric storage. How about a few pretty lakes instead.

    The greedy will push the dirty energy such as this and nuclear simply because that is where they have put their money.

    Geothermal / Wind / hydroelectric / Tidal / Wave will be denied investment to push this obscene agenda.

  3. David Allan says:

    An especially interesting attention grabbing piece well done Laura Eaton-Lewis another demonstration of an area where government and our representatives have failed to provide the necessary answers and evidence to sufficiently satisfy communities throughout the country that they are capable of exercising competent decisions on our behalf.

    For me this issue shows that Politicians many of them without the necessary acquired subject knowledge only exist to satisfy the party whip. And then avoid the topic at every opportunity as exposure of their lack of knowledge would be evident. Quoting only the usual Spin and Party sound-bites.

    We all need to take our elected representatives to task asking their opinions and views on issues on Fracking and other issues of concern. For years elected Politicians have not been properly accountable to their electorate. This is something that party members can and should be confident enough to achieve make them work to earn your loyalty! they represent you they are your voice at Holyrood or Westminster.

    How many Political Party branch meetings will have expert presentations followed by member discussion and agreement on furthering a motion representing local opinion. How many MP/MSP’s would be prepared to declare an individual stance on this topic.

    Local Communities need to invite these elected members to local meetings and challenge them to express their opinions.

    Ensure they are indeed worthy of your vote this year and next.

    The Home Insurance angle is something I hadn’t even considered. I would imagine increased potential for subsidence in many mining areas is something that needs to be looked into. The issue of possible high risk Higher Premiums if there is fracking nearby is worth writing to your MP/MSP about.

  4. Conrad Hughes says:

    I know this is nitpicky, but could you double-check your “will have generated 50% of its electricity needs through renewables this year” source please? The article you link to suggests that 41% of electricity generated in the first half of 2014 was from renewables, but says nothing about 2015. We’ve also got the good news from WWF that in January 2015 Scotland generated 146% of domestic (i.e. not commercial) electricity requirement from renewables, but their analysis also points out that on some days this was as low as 28%. This underlines how important an improved energy storage infrastructure will be (as Clootie says),

    Another unfortunate point to note is that in 2012 Scotland consumed 50GWh of energy in the form of gas, while it consumed only (!) 25GWh of electricity. So even if we achieve 100% renewable electricity, we still have to achieve a massive shift away from fossil fuels. Across the UK in 2012, electricity was only 20% of total energy consumption – the rest being a mixture of petrol, gas, manufactured solid fuels, coal and biowaste (which yes, could be renewable, but is only 1% of the total at the moment).

    [source 1=”Department” 2=”of” 3=”Energy” 4=”&” 5=”Climate” 6=”Change” 7=”sub-national” 8=”statistics” language=”:”][/source]

    1. Alastair McIntosh says:

      Hello Conrad (I’m assuming/hoping its Irish Conrad Hughes of so many year ago – forgive me if not) – oh dear, I’m too whacked out from today’s work to absorb Laura’s article in full, but I can see it is a work of art, beautifully written, and a huge amount of research, and above all, the passion that is so lacking in much of the mainstream debate. Thank God for such livewire energy.

      But Conarad, my point to you is that while you point to a 2:1 gas:electricity ratio, the fact is that the C02 intensitivity of UK electricity (Carbon Trust data from 2 years ago) is 3:1. Thus, to substitute one unit of electricity by renewables generation is equivalent to substituting 3 units of gas in terms of C02 impact. As such, Scotland is not doing badly.

      That said, today I was reading Wild Land News, the magazine of the Scottish Wild Land Group, and I am dismayed at some of the locations being proposed for wind turbine development. Does Fergus Ewing and the SNP not realise that without the beauty of Scotland, there would be no spirit of Scotland, and the green movement even more eviscerated than it already has been since being spit down the middle by the turbines issue?

      What can be the way forward? Bella readers will be tired of me pointing to my own domestic experience of combining solar panels with a small air source heat pump and cutting my carbon footprint by nearly 2/3. Likewise, trumpeting the Scottish Govt’s Green Homes Cashback scheme for external wall insulation (currently on waiting list pending fresh funding). Or Eigg’s remarkable energy self-reliance with its own grid. These things are expensive, but possible. If you’re the same Conrad I’m thinking of, my enduring memory of you is from after a particular Faslane protest. There’s our choice. Spend it on the false security of nuclear weapons, or the true security that reconnects us to our sense of place, to nature and to human nature, and starts to take away the cause of brokenness and war.

  5. James Baird says:

    Interesting Article,

    This is arguably the most important debate (sustainable energry resources and the environement/ development) going on in the world today, and is blethered about on every continent.

    Although I agree in sentiment with the post above, the nuances are why I finally ripped up my Scottish Greens membership in response to their dogmantic/ nationalist stance on the issue – of all the things that don’t have borders it’s the environment.

    However, just to take the UK (Scotland).


    1)geothermal energy.

    It is massively expensive (implausilbly so at the mo) and deep vein sources are location specific to geological areas – like Hydro (there are local surface vents the BGS identified in mine shafts that could provide temporary energy for parts of the central belt but is very limited and not sustainable in the long term.) The best depth to energy ratio is in Cornwall and the South West. Also it involves a similar process to fracking – but it is still worth pursuing – the US is leading the charge.

    2) Other Renewables.

    The fundamental issue is baseload. i.e) how to store/ regulate energy production. The problem is there is no technology (no fuel cell) that can store the energy produced for times when either the wind stops blowing, the waves stop rolling or the clouds forming. The lack of regulating capacity is fundamental as it would mean unpredictable blackouts and wouldn’t be able to manage any surges in use. Not great if you’re running a hospital or an airport.

    3) Nuclear.

    New generation plants are being built all over the world, especially in Russia and China. They use a limited fission process, so little waste (that can be reused as fuel) and can’t melt down – the fission process is easily shut down (unlike the old plants like Chernoble/ Fukuyama/ Sellafield).

    My view is that we needs a balance between these three.

    1) Nuclear for baseload/ short term while an integrate UK wide renewables energy grid is developed.

    The logic is simple: The way you offset the baseload problem is to spread energy generation across a wide geographical area. e.g) When the wind stops blowing in Fife, it starts blowing in Essex or use geothermal in cornwall or the tidal surge on the Severn Barrier can take up the slack etc. And small scale nuclear for emergency.

    The fundamental problem can be solved, but it requires a coordinated UK wide approach – as they are thinking about in Scandinavia. This was actually being put forward prior to the indyref, but the whole thing was shelved due to the uncertainty of the last few years, and the ‘dastardly’ Oil and Gas lobby undercut the politics and progress in the meantime – The thing that most undermined renewables was different jurisdictions over energy policy across the UK! (Nationalists hate this when you point it out).

    Now the ‘dastardly O&G’ have the upper hand and have played on the politics of division. The hypocrisy of the SNP is breath taking. They claimed renewables as a referendum goal while undermining the best chance (politically speaking) to forward it’s progress (On a coordinated UK scale). They knew this all along – I can dig out the reports if you like – instead they made spurious claims about a utopian energy exporting state (ignoring the baselaod issue completely) while simultaneously jumping into bed with Ineos, using it either way depending on the political expedience – they win the indyref then they release the ‘good’ environmental reports and play the employment card and get the windfall from fracking. Or two they lose, then produce ‘bad’ environmental reports and claim a morartorium to set themselves apart from WM until after the GE (Fracking WILL go ahead after!!).

    Excuse my cynism (I’m an economist by training), but to paraphrase John Stuart Mill:

    “So much barbarism, however, still remains in the transactions of most civilized nations, that almost all independent countries choose to assert their nationality by having, to their inconvenience and that of their neighbors, a peculiar currency (ENERGY POLICY) of their own.”

    So all those Yessers, now having kittens over fracking, and about to vote for ‘the SNP frackers’ in the GE only have themselves to blame. Many of us more prudent ‘No’ voters who looked at the long term…the potential of a UK wide renewable system (i.e most of the renwable energy industry) tried to introduce this sensible consideration (plus pragmatic commercial concerns) into the debate but were shouted down by those ‘fantasists’ and ‘artists’ busy imagining a new country. Three years have since been wasted on making the case for UK green energy progress, for a pointless load of well….’Politics’.

    But hey…’It’s Scotland Oil! and Gas!’ And it’s also now Scotland’s pollution!

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Do you assume constant or increasing energy demand?

      1. James Baird says:

        Globally, massively increasing demand,

        UK wide, steady gradual increase, offset by energy saving policies and initiatives.

    2. Conrad Hughes says:

      Care to elaborate on your penultimate paragraph? It seems pretty clear that a source of transition energy is required (nuclear most likely: the stuff I’ve seen on UK fracking argues that it’s uneconomic without subsidy, and there are better things to subsidise), but given the UK’s failure to support either Scottish fossil fuels (North Sea) *or* Scottish renewables (Pelamis), how are the nats at fault? I mean, sure, energy storage for a renewable baseline is a massive issue, but you seem to be claiming that the UK’s undermining of citizen rights to enable an uneconomic and locally untested energy source which will only make our carbon debt worse is a positive alternative. You haven’t at all made that case.

      1. IAB says:

        I agree with you Conrad and I am disappointed that Mr Baird felt a cheap Yes/No shot was necessary to make points. Tidal/wave is the way forward and we only await the development of the technology. Pointing fingers at the SNP only indicates that Mr Baird has a highly defined agenda.

  6. maxii kerr says:

    If we let these people lay waste to the Central belt in Scotland….then its game over, and we will never come back from this pure distruction of a people and their culture. Wake up Scotland ..before its too late.

  7. ScottieDog says:

    Worth a look at David hughes’ report on fracking in the U.S. It actually examines the data from each and every site, although I’m not sure if cola bed methane is discussed…

  8. Anton says:

    I too am struggling with some of the calculations in this post, not to mention some of the “facts” – e.g. that Canada has banned fracking (it hasn’t).

    But if the point is that the use of fossil fuels is a bad thing because of pollution, environmental damage, and global warming, surely a much more immediate solution to all these problems would be to close all the oil fields in Scottish waters?

    Otherwise don’t we lay ourselves open to an accusation of hypocrisy? How can we be opposed to the environmental damage that may be caused by fracking in Scotland, while being happy to export huge quantities of environmentally damaging fossil fuels to other countries?

    1. Daryl says:

      The world is not going to stop using fossil fuel anytime soon, so more sensible to exploit our own oil. The alternative is oil from the middle east and African countries with the associated environmental damage and destruction. I did lose respect for the greens during the referendum, misplaced loyalties, nuclear is bad regardless of the science, but north sea oil is good as it aids the independence case.

      Fracking would be sensible, we all ready import fracked gas from the USA, if we are serous about tackling climate change, fracked gas would allow a quick transition away from coal, and profits could be invested in to research and design of future clean energy sources. The main reason greens are against fracking is that it will likely lead to falling gas prices, making renewable less cost competive, a global carbon tax would help with transition away from coal and uptake of renewables,

    2. Daryl says:

      Exactly, I would much rather we exploit our own resources with associated increased environmental standards than blindly consume oil from the third world with the destruction and civil wars it causes.

    3. janetmoxley says:

      I think there are some differences between the situation with unconventional gas and North sea, but you are right that they both cause greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and we cannot continue to emit GHGs at the level that we do. In an idea work we would stop use of both immediately, but we’re not in an ideal world.

      North sea gas (and oil) is an established technology and for better or worse makes up a large part of Scotland’s economy. Switching it off right now would damage the economy and also leave us open to huge compensation claims from the oil companies who currently have licences to extract it.

      Unconventional gas is not yet part of our economy and brings new risks. If we open the door to it we will be signing up to continue our reliance on fossil fuels and the GHG emissions this brings. However we can stop it now while there are no commercial licences and so no need to compensate licence holders. This would then make us to focus our attention on transitioning our economy to a clean energy future which could start to displace all fossil fuels in the medium term.

      1. Daryl says:

        Yeah but with all the talk of stabilising climate change to the 2 degree target, immediate action is required, unconventional gas allows us to make a quick transition away from coal, combined with a carbon tax it would be a useful first step in reducing global carbon emission. As a carbon tax increase over time, renewables will become more cost effective and we can gradual make the transition from gas to renewables and modern nuclear power. The alternative is dragging out the status quo for another decade, a which point it will be to late.

  9. David says:

    That’s a lot of bold, I’ve been called names for using none, green ink brigade springs to mind, in a word; hydrogen, another; solar, or will we go scary with the safe version of; nuclear – that our politicians chose to avoid. Or something better, fusion? cave fires? plant stuff?

  10. sam mccomb says:

    The response by James Baird is interesting and, potentially, very useful. Useful to the Scottish independence movement. Implicit in what Mr Baird is saying is that the independence movement needs to take notice of his point of view and of criticisms of the “greens” made by others. Unless that is done, and done convincingly, I cannot see Scotland becoming independent.

    Much of what I see on this website is people talking to themselves. There is no reaching out to those who won the referendum. There is no attempt to explore their arguments and whether what passes for gospel here might, in fact, be mistaken.

    I agree with many of the criticisms that James Baird makes. I did not finish reading the blog post by Laura Eaton-Lewis. I support Scottish independence and am unconvinced by the claims that fracking is such a danger that it should be banned. I am unconvinced that renewables are cheap and reliable forms of energy.


  11. maxii kerr says:

    Fracking WILL affect fresh water sources, there is no doubt about that!.The problem will arise when the OWNERS of unnafected supplies have sole commercial rights to their own aquifers.
    FRESH WATER, will be the new oil, and you can just imagine the power of ownership.

    1. Daryl says:

      Maybe in America, but not here, we only get about 7% of our water from ground supplies. Fresh water is one thing Scotland will never have to worry about. But our drinking water supplies are already effected by run off pesticides from farm land, I am more concerned about long term sustainability of farming and air pollution in our cities than the health risk from fracking.

  12. David says:

    It was good to see this in the bold links there though:

    “Onshore wind farms generate below 20% of their stated maximum output for 20 weeks a year, and below l0% for nine weeks a year. That means that wind farms are, effectively, failing to reach maximum output capacity for more than half the year. On average, they exceed 90% of their rated output for only 17 hours a year. That is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Worse still, Britain’s onshore wind farms are routinely paid large sums of money not to generate electricity—as much as £l million in each week of 2014. Those payments, described officially as constraint payments, ultimately end up on consumers’ bills, meaning that the British public are effectively subsidising the UK’s onshore wind industry not to produce electricity.

    Research by the Renewable Energy Foundation shows that Whitelee in Scotland, the site of Britain’s largest onshore wind farm, was paid more than £22 million in constraint payments last year. In other words, it was paid £22 million of taxpayers’ cash not to produce anything. Very nice work indeed if you can get it! Last year, a total of £53 million was paid in constraint payments to wind farms—both onshore and offshore—which is the most since 2010. Wind farms are being paid more than £1 million a week to switch off their turbines.

    I am sure that the wind industry will tell us that this method of electricity generation is a way to create jobs. The industry’s trade body, RenewableUK, states that the industry

    “is set to employ up to a further 70,000 people by 2023”.

    The promise of those jobs is totally dependent on the building of large-scale wind farms at sea and the construction of factories in Britain to manufacture the turbines, which are almost all built abroad at the moment. The Scottish energy Minister published figures last year showing that 2,235 jobs were connected directly to onshore wind at 203 wind farms across Scotland, so with an annual subsidy of £344 million, that works out at a cost of £154,000 per job.”

    1. Conrad Hughes says:

      National Grid statistics for constraints payments, 2012/13: wind £7m, total for all sources £170m. I couldn’t instantly find a 2012/13 figure for wind as a percentage of all generation, but Wikipedia gives 9.3% for 2014. £7m is 4% of £170m, so wind is receiving proportionately less than half the constraint payments of other energy sources.

      The constraint payments system is the price we pay for government underinvestment in the national grid, not some kind of secret green subsidy.

      Your quoting the REF, a known anti-wind lobbying organisation, doesn’t help your case.

      1. David says:

        I’m just quoting what was linked to from the article, under “£300m for the renewables sector” though that doesn’t come anywhere close to what Scotland’s percentage should be going by the £1,300,000m figure Labour pledged in 2008 using the renewables sector to reduce CO2 by 80% before 2050. Can you quote me the percentage of wind energy that was used by the grid vs other sources given it’s non-reliability and indeterminacy till we get an idea of what a bargain this article attempts to make it all sound?

      2. Conrad Hughes says:

        Not sure what you’re asking; I gave the 2014 figure above: wind generated 9.3% of metered UK electricity (unmetered wind appears as a drop in demand; I don’t know what it totals). It’s worth noting that just because on some days an individual wind farm may not be generating, it’s less common for them all to stop. That’s actually one of the big issues driving the constraint payments system: we don’t have the grid infrastructure to move electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s needed in the case of many renewables.

        Renewables become more practical if we have an improved infrastructure, and an improved storage mechanism. A couple of interesting ideas in this direction are to use electric car batteries as smart storage, and building a shared European supergrid.

        .. I’m a little suspicious of the origins of the Wikipedia 9.3% figure, but certainly the government figure for 2013 is 7.7%, and it’s growing very rapidly.

  13. janetmoxley says:

    Good article. One point though: actually nuclear power stations to self-monitor. We live in a crazy world!

  14. James Baird says:

    @Conrad and IAB

    ‘…Care to elaborate on your penultimate paragraph? It seems pretty clear that a source of transition energy is required (nuclear most likely: the stuff I’ve seen on UK fracking argues that it’s uneconomic without subsidy, and there are better things to subsidise), but given the UK’s failure to support either Scottish fossil fuels (North Sea) *or* Scottish renewables (Pelamis), how are the nats at fault?’

    This isn’t accurate. UK govt is providing tax breaks for the Northsea O&G and more importantly for the UK wide associated supply chain (lots of jobs at stake.) This is supported by the Scot govt. Also Pelamis is precisely the point – the uncertainty over the indyref and potential loss of consumer base for Scottish renewables scared investors away. Govt subsidies are not whole sale investments, they are sweetners for the private sector. Pelamis, after being floated found no buyers ‘anywhere’ even the cash laoded Chinese have shyed off for the moment. HIEnterprise (i/e) the Scottish govt, had to buy them. – Also this is Scotland’s jurisdiction. It is the Scottish govt who decides how renewables expenditure gets shared out among solar, wind and wave etc, not WM.

    It’s like this:

    1) there is the functional aspect as earlier mentioned to do with tech and baseload, better on a UK level.

    2) Commercial aspect: Renewables need time to develop. Scotland currently gets 1/3 of all UK govt subsidies yet only has 9% of UK energy sales. If Scotland had become indy, this would have been cut. The subsidies are used to entice private enterprise based on a guarenteed return on access to the energy grid. Salmond and Ewing claimed the usual bluff – that rUK would automatically use Scottish renewables. But this was bull. a) Why would rUK allow a foreign competitor access to their nascent market while simultaneously subisidising it’s higher cost over hydro carbons? – politcally imposs and frankly why should Welsh renewables or Cornish companies/ rUK tax payers not freeze Scotland out? Scotland would be doing precisely that to them through indy and different tax regimes. Plus England and Wales are more than capable of supplying their own renewable energy and have cheaper access to French nuclear and Irish renewables.

    b) Prior to the indyref, the ‘evil’ WM select committee got together with the whole industry in cooperation with the devolved govts to figure out the best way forward for everyone in the ‘Atlantic Archipelego’ (this also included Ireland) – take a look at the DECC annual report and see Fergus Ewings smiling face on a UK govt document. But in public the SNP message is entirely different – all confrontation and unsubstantiated claims.

    c) One of the proposals was the creation of an integrated ‘smart grid’ – to facilitate the Baseload issue and to provide easy export to the ‘clean energy’ hungry EU/ continent. – everyone is a winner. Uk becomes an energy exporter/ world leader in the tech and Scotland gets most of the jobs. Alex Slamond of course huffed and puffed at this reasonable suggestion and said Scotland could be an exporter alone???? how???? You cannot store the energy!!!!! It isn’t LNG that can be shipped off. It needs an unbroken link all the way to the buyer. So if you’re selling in Europe from Scotland you have to go through erm….???? ….ehhhh…oh aye, ENGLAND!!!!! – Why would England allow a competitor to use THEIR smart grid system? And why should they??

    Meanwhile, all the investors were looking at this and going mmmmm…Denmark’s looking good, and those Canadian are doing well, let’s put our money there instead of these shouty ‘arty’ types – they’re not hugely interested in poetry!

    Hence the slump in renewables investment, hence Pelamis collapse (among other things.)

    And yes I suppose I do have an agenda..that is to promote clean renewable energy in the most productive and speedily manner poss so that we get the jobs/ money while also saving the planet by ridding the world of Hydrocarbons. Frankly if that is in Scotland or the UK is of zero interest to me except for the empirical efficay. What works is fine! And the UK works better!

    You flag waving nats should hang your heads in shame as now any poss of offsetting fracking has been put back considerably. You’re worse than the dastardly O&G lobby in the Tory party and very powerful in lobby in Scotland. So when Laura goes off on her cloying ‘My children’s future’ guff, she should have the courage to look them in the eye and say, yup, that was our fault rather than blamming others.

    Indy Scot would have destoyed Scots renewables and that irritates me!

    1. Conrad Hughes says:

      1) I think we’re all agreed that baseload is an issue wrt renewables. Lots of people are working on that; the European super grid and vehicle-to-grid being two interesting, if distant, approaches to ameliorating it.

      2) Scotland generated 40% of UK renewables in 2012, so it seems unfair for it to only receive a third of the renewables subsidy. UK subsidy of fossil fuels is around £7bn (IMF, 2011), 14 times the renewables subsidy you think so disproportionate. A devolved government with power over energy (which I note is currently reserved, contrary to your suggestion) that prioritises renewables might find it relatively straightforward to rebalance its subsidy structure accordingly.

      a) You’re painting a future Scotland-rUK relationship as the new US-Cuba. Eh, or vice versa. Ignoring the fact that independence is off the cards for the time being, and ignoring the difficulty of their implementing a trade embargo within Europe, why would a putative rUK not deal with Scotland if it made financial sense?

      b) Unsure of your point.

      c) Scotland already has a HVDC cable to Ireland; there’s a proposed cable to Norway that’s almost as large as the England-France one; there’s a new Scotland-Wales HVDC cable due online next year. No nationalist rUK government would stop the capitalists from making good use of these connections.

      Why are you making this all about Scotland vs rUK, and not just pushing for what you say you want, progress on renewables? I really didn’t read Ms Eaton-Lewis’s article as a nationalist screed (hence my confusion at your bringing up the “nats”). Most of what she talks about seems valid across the UK even where much of her data is Scotland-specific. Indeed, her final proposal is for either government to act.

      1. sam says:


        You refer to fossil fuel “subsidies”. What do you mean by this, please? I can find no instance of it.



      2. Conrad Hughes says:

        Hi Sam,

        For context, a recent historical analysis estimated that over 1950-2010, oil, gas and coal benefited from about 70% of US energy subsidies, weakening “level playing field” complaints about “excessive” subsidies for renewables (which received 21% over the same period; nuclear received the remaining 9%):

        The particular number I was referring to comes from this 2013 IMF report, which estimates “post-tax” subsidies for gas and coal in the UK as totalling 0.45% of GDP in 2011:

        The number should be treated with caution, but the IMF struck me as one of the less debatable sources for such information.

      3. James Baird says:

        Hi Conrad,

        I think we may be talking past one another a bit? I fully agree Scotland should get more subs due to potential available – makes sense.

        The nationalist thing is me being grumpy. Laura is the prospective Green MSP for Central Scot and was one of the SNP backed ‘National Collective’ arty types ‘imagining’ a Scotland who repeatedly drowned out ‘non partisan’ engineers, scientists, economists (like me) who are primarily motivated by what was the best option for renewable energy. It just so happened, due to simple things like necessary capital investment and return that an automatic integrated market (with expensive infrastructure dev necessary underwritten by a much larger resource base) could best be achieved through the incentive of providing energy to a guaranteed 30 million homes (UK wide). Subsidy is only part of the story, financial viability is dependent on private investment. Investors are not interested in a market that may be in the near and medium term be limited to 3 million homes (indy scot) and no guarentee of future access/ as a consequence long term competitiveness vis a vis other renewable producers (Ireland and rUK). There was ‘Scot govt’ silence when the actual costing of subsidizing renewable projects/ grid connectivity infrastructure (as you rightly pointed – subsea cables to Norway/ Ireland etc) in Scotland were asked for. Or why there was the unfounded assumption that rUk would agree to complete unfettered open access to their energy market?

        In short, the Scot govt were playing politics with the industry and the Scot Green bought into it hook line and sinker.

        Like I said, my irritation with Scot Greens/ Yessers grew when they refused to even entertain these concerns what so ever and more wise (very experienced) heads were ‘unimaginative’ and weren’t interested in going on ‘a journey’. We were shouted down as Scaremongers for presenting empirical evidence. People, like Laura, who had never heard of an Optimum Currency area/ Optimum market sector for developing industries or a depth to heat ratio or had not the first idea of how much it costs to drill exploratory bore holes across a vast geological, then develop workable geotherm plants (Scotland cannot afford it alone given the cheap price of fossils, full stop!) area or about inter-connectivity expense prior to their political ‘epiphany’.

        Maybe I’m old fashioned and a little conservative, but I prefer data and critical probability, experience to ‘Hope over Fear’.

        I think the Scots Greens have painted themselves into a corner as now they have to maintain the Nationalist/ Independence ‘first and last’ over and above the most efficacious way to promote renewable energy, and Pat Harvie realizes it. But now the ranks are swelled with dogmatic Yessers so he can do nothing about it – go read the website. the narrative is now, ‘we need Uk wide cooperation….blah blah…for indy Scot.

        Renewable energy has a great future in Scotland and the UK and the World, but please stop playing ‘nationalist’ politics with my future grand children’s future. It really is not that important compared to the challenges of global warming, acidification of the seas and land, and keeping the lights on.

    2. sam says:


      “UK govt is providing tax breaks for the Northsea O&G”

      What do you mean by this, please? My understanding was that the industry was the most highly taxed in the UK. Do you agree with this?



      1. sam says:


        Thanks for that. What I find when I look at fossil fuel “subsidies” is that they are really mostly tax breaks for consumers.By that I mean that in the UK, VAT on all fuels, not just fossil fuels is set at 5%, I think, whereas VAT on most other products is 20%. So this what the OECD (my source) and IMF appendices says is a subsidy. It isn’t a subsidy as I would regard it. And no account is taken of the additional taxes that the O&G industry pays that other businesses do not pay.


      2. James Baird says:

        Hi Sam,

        Nicola Sturgeon (to her credit and long term vision – if you work in the oil industry that is) has teamed up with George Orborne to ensure tax breaks for oil exploration and production and on certain service aspects – customs duty on industry related imports. They won’t admit it in public and there is still disagreement, but I will be very surprised if it isn’t announced in the coming budget.

        Is simple, they need a fiscal stimulous to keep things profitable until the oil price goes back up. Interestingly, a mate of mine (who knows these things) was predicting a significant rise in the second half of the year? – personally I da ken, like.

        O&G highly taxed? compared to which other industries. It is taxed higher than some other oil countries but less than others. All depends?

    3. gonzalo1 says:

      James, the waves will never stop rolling. They will continue until the end of time, there is nothing more reliable.

  15. sam says:


    I think you are referring to Osborne’s budget. Nicola Sturgeon has been urging Osborne to introduce tax cuts for O&G industry more quickly and not to wait for the budget. All of this goes back to the Wood Review completed in the middle of last year. A key conclusion of the review was that DECC was unfit to act as a regulator of the industry. Another key conclusion was the fiscal regime applied to the industry discouraged investment and lacked stability sufficient to allow industry to plan field development.

    I am not in the O&G industry but took an interest during the indyref.

    Since you have a mate who knows you may well know already the tax rates that apply. Ring fenced corporation tax is 30%. There is an additional supplementary tax of 32%. The majority of O&G companies pay tax of 62%.. There is an additional tax Petroleum Revenue Tax payable on producing fields which were given development consent before 1993. Those paying PRT face marginal tax rate of 81%. Those rates seem high to me though I am no tax expert. the key point though is that Ian Wood thought reform of the fiscal system was a necessary part of reforms needed within the industry and that was (I think) before the oil price started to slide.

    I support the use of fossil fuels – perhaps not coal – though the UK still uses quite a lot of it. Renewables have their place in the mix perhaps. I am doubtful that the cost of onshore wind can come down. This is not now a novel form of energy production. that said, you may be better informed than me.


  16. Kailyard Kenny says:

    We need a lot more nuclear power stations as France has. Yes there are problems but no CO2 emissions.

  17. maxi kerr says:

    The debate on climate change is all smoke and mirors,this is all and only about MONEY, and who gets their greedy hands on it.The destruction of our homelands mean nothing to the parasitic bunch of criminal leeches, who will just move on to new pastures and do the same again. WE must stop them before its too late. Remember there is no real financial or intellectual or academic reason for this waste of our homes and countryside.

    1. Darien says:

      Talking of “criminal leeches”, worth noting that Scotland’s major central belt firths are regulated by the port ‘authorities’, who are in turn owned by offshore private equity funds in the Channel and Cayman Islands. In other words, Scotland’s major estuaries are controlled and regulated (and to large extent owned) by offshore registered investment bankers. The SNP Gov does not seem to have noticed this yet! Maybe they should. Our major airports ditto.

  18. David Allan says:

    And well I remember the aims of Thatcher privatisation the only method to secure and finance our future Energy Needs! Subsidies / Restraint payments etc etc who benefits – not the consumer !

    Aye what a legacy we all inherited from that era!

    1. sam says:

      I am not sure why this post has appeared again. Perhaps there have been amendments to the original. I have not gone back to check.I suspect it is a reminder of her election campaign.

      Laura makes a number of claims which I question. She says, about fracking, “and leave any substance under the ground where it has the potential to leak into the ground water supply”. I may be wrong, but my understanding is that fracking in the UK would be done at a depth well below the water table. Impermeable rocks of considerable thickness separate the area of drilling from the water table over most of the UK. I do not see the danger of water contamination that Laura does.

      Also, there is a reference to tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. Which tax breaks does Laura have in mind? This assertion is made along with a claim that each year the oil and gas industry gets “subsidies” worth billions while the renewables industry gets subsidies of millions of pounds. I have always regarded subsidies as public money paid to businesses and that is how it is presented here:”public purse gives the oil and gas sector between £5-£6 bn compared to only £300m for the renewables sector”. This is misleading in my opinion. The reference is to the VAT paid on fuel which is set at the rate of 5% rather than 20%. This rate applies to both the O&G industry and renewables industry. The public purse does not “give” anything to these industries – they pay less VAT. And the reason that the oil and gas industry pays £5-£6 billion less than it would if it was paying the rate at 20% and the renewables industry is paying £300 million less than it would if it was paying the rate at 20% is simple. The oil and gas industry is much larger than the renewables industry.

      Laura says that the O&G industry generated taxes of £10.6 billion in 2011. I believe the figure for that year was more like £9.1 but the difference is not my point. In 2011 the total taxes raised by the industry was £30 billion, around 5.5% of the UK budget and almost all the Scottish budget for the year. A thriving oil and gas industry is beneficial to an independent Scotland.


  19. Pingback: Possible Worlds |
  20. emilytom67 says:

    Where the eff does safe Nuclear come in to it,I must have missed Japan/Chernobyl/Three mile Island.

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