Parts of the Lothians are sitting on top of Scotland’s richest shale gas reserves, putting the region in pole position for any fracking goldrush north of the Border, it emerged today.
Thousands of jobs could follow if energy companies drill for the controversial hard-to-reach fuel, which has sparked huge environmental protests at sites in England.
Detailed maps drawn up by the British Geological Society (BGS) show that Midlothian and parts of East Lothian sit on the edge of a deep pocket of shale under the Forth, making them among the best areas for gas fracking in the country.
BGS geologist Edward Hough, who co-ordinated the study, said: “The shale in that area is thicker and deeper, which means that it might be a more attractive target for exploration companies.”
Scientists estimate that central Scotland could hold 80 trillion cubic feet of shale gas and six billion barrels of shale oil. If just 10 per cent of that was extracted from the ground, it would meet Scotland’s energy needs for 27 years and create between 5000 and 10,000 jobs, according to analysts Pinsent Masons.
However, the BGS study revealed that Scotland has far less shale gas potential than the north of England, prompting environmentalists and green politicians to dismiss the “hype” around fracking. The amount of shale gas locked underground in Scotland is far less than the 1,300 trillion cubic feet estimated to be contained in the vast Bowland Basin in northern England.
Green party leader Patrick Harvie MSP said: “This study puts paid to all the hype we’ve been fed about a shale bonanza.
“Not only would fracking divert attention from our undoubted renewables potential but any economically viable extraction would be modest and short term. It’s clear that any such developments will face strong opposition.”
Shale gas is extremely difficult to extract, requiring the controversial fracking technique where thousands of litres of water and sand are pumped deep into the ground to crack the bedrock and release gas and oil.
Environmentalists claim the process risks contaminating ground water, and it has been linked to small earthquakes during experimental drilling near Blackpool.
The UK government is pushing through laws to allow energy companies to drill for shale gas underneath landowners’ property without their permission, in a bid to clear the way of any legal disputes.
Responding to the survey, Scottish Government Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: “We are taking a balanced, evidence-based approach to the development of unconventional gas, and convened an expert scientific panel on unconventional oil and gas to examine the issue.
“At this time there are no proposals which involve the use of hydraulic fracturing [fracking] techniques in Scotland, and proposals for coal-bed methane or shale gas production will be studied on their merits, and considered through the normal planning process.”
Mr Harvie said the findings would encourage voters to back independence in September’s referendum. He added: “It all serves as a reminder that Westminster controls energy policy in Scotland. The chance to pursue clean, long-lasting power rather than polluting, finite fuels is a compelling reason to vote Yes in September.”