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Evidence mounts in support of Scottish CBM development

World Coal,

An Independent Expert and Scientific Panel (IESP), convened by the Scottish Government to report on the scientific evidence relating to unconventional oil and gas, has released its findings.

The IESP report, which the Scottish Government claims to be “robust and well researched […] [on which the government] can reliably base future policy,” sets out a detailed assessment of the potential resources available to Scotland.

One of the key findings of the report is that Scotland could receive “positive economic impacts” from the development of an unconventional resources industry. The report goes onto state in its conclusions that “further exploratory drilling will be required”.

Both coalbed methane (CBM) and shale gas were key focuses of the report, which noted that, as suitable petrochemical feed-stocks from the North Sea decline, the potential availability of these feed-stocks from CBM and shale “could have a beneficial impact on Scotland’s petro-chemical industry in the long term”.

The report also notes that Scotland likely has “significant reserves” of both CBM and shale gas and that “it seems likely that unconventional gas could be developed in Scotland at scale. This is particularly true, given Scotland’s domestic oil and gas supply-chain industry, and Scotland’s longstanding experience in other extractive industries such as coal mining, shale oil, and conventional oil and gas.”

An unconventional Scottish revolution?

The authors of the report look across the Atlantic for inspiration from the US, which has seen a boom in unconventional resource development – both shale gas and CBM. The report notes: “The development of the unconventional oil & gas industry has changed the energy outlook of the United States of America. This has been made possible by technological advances in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The impact of the US shale gas ’revolution’ has raised interest in developing unconventional hydrocarbon resources in the rest of the world.”

“There could be positive economic impacts from the development of an unconventional oil & gas industry, in terms of jobs created, taxes paid and gross value added,” the report adds.

Technical challenges

As yet, the report notes that a current lack of infrastructure, such as drilling rigs, could have an impact on the development of a Scottish unconventional resources industry. However, as “advances in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing” continue, the report sees little reason as to why continued development of CBM in Scotland could not feasibly take place.

The report states: “There are a number of technical challenges associated with unconventional hydrocarbon extraction, though it is the Expert Scientific Panel’s view that none of these are insurmountable. The technology exists to allow the safe extraction of such reserves, subject to robust regulation being in place.”

Social and environmental impact

The report also discusses, in depth, its analysis of societal and environmental impacts of CBM development. It’s key findings in this respect are that existing stringent regulations could well ensure safe extraction of unconventional gas, while clearer and more balanced information must be distributed on a wider scale than at present, in order to inform and educate those people on all sides of the unconventional gas debate.

“It should be noted that the existence of a potential problem does not mean that it will occur. There are numerous regulations and assessments in place to reduce or eliminate adverse occurrences,” IESP authors state. They add, “polarised views [in the media] often result in the “cherry picking” of data and anecdotal evidence to support either position making it a harder proposition to use the wider body of robust evidence to have a balanced debate on the subject. Arguably, this only leads to further confusion among the public.”

Clear potential in CBM development

The IESP report adds a caveat that there is no definitive conclusion as to whether developing unconventional gas resources will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, from the wealth of research available in the report, it seems clear there is certainly a potential wealth of unconventional resources available to Scotland, both as an independent country (if the Scottish people vote ‘yes’ in the September impendence referendum) or as part of the UK.

Throughout the report, it is possible to find extensive and compelling evidence that would support the continued development and exploration of Scotland’s unconventional resources.

Written by Sam Dodson

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