What is fracking and why is it causing controversy in Scotland?

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The Scottish Government today announced that they would ban fracking in Scotland, but would could this decision mean for the country?

Fracking is credited with transforming the US energy industry in the past decade, sparking a dash to replicate the success elsewhere.

Shale gas is still at the exploratory stage in the UK, but supporters say it is an important energy source that could become a major new industry for Scotland.

They say home-grown supplies would help guarantee fuel supplies, reduce dependency on foreign oil and provide jobs. The first imports of US shale gas to Scotland arrived by tanker at the Ineos petrochemical plant in Grangemouth last year.

READ MORE: Scottish Government announces ban on fracking

Environmental risk

Many campaigners claim fracking poses a serious risk to the environment. Picture: Gareth Easton

Many campaigners claim fracking poses a serious risk to the environment. Picture: Gareth Easton

Critics claim fracking poses a serious risk to people and the planet through effects such as toxic air pollution, contamination of water and seismic events. It has also been blamed for lowering house prices.

Nearly 2,000 square kilometres of land across Scotland’s central belt has been earmarked as suitable for exploitation of unconventional oil and gas, though recoverable quantities have been described by the British Geological Survey as “modest” – an estimated six billion barrels of shale oil and 80 trillion cubic feet of shale gas.

It’s not known how much these reserves could be worth to the economy, but a report from financial experts at PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2013 suggested shale gas extraction north of the Border could bring in up to £5 billion by 2035.

Powers over onshore oil and gas licensing are devolved to the Scottish Parliament by way of the Scotland Act 2016, and Holyrood controls critical planning and environmental regulation powers.

READ MORE: INEOS on Scottish fracking ban: ‘England will reap benefits’

How it works

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high-pressure into rock fissures deep underground to release gas trapped inside.

It is known to have caused earthquakes and there have been reports from other countries of various adverse effects.

A growing anti-fracking movement saw huge demonstrations and local campaigns taking place from autumn 2014 onwards.

In response to public pressure, a moratorium on exploration for shale gas and coalbed methane in Scotland was put in place in January 2015, to allow research into its impacts to be gathered.

South of the border

A moratorium is also in force in Wales, but fracking is permitted in England - though operations in Lancashire had to be suspended in 2011 when drilling triggered two minor earthquakes.

A vote in the Scottish Parliament last summer came out narrowly in favour of a full ban on fracking. SNP members abstained but the Scottish Greens, Liberal Democrats and Labour joined forces to defeat the Tories.

Scottish ministers announced a ban on underground coal gasification in autumn last year, and published research on fracking’s effects on health, climate, economics, transport, earthquakes and decommissioning.

Last November Labour MSP Claudia Beamish launched a private member’s bill to ban fracking

A four-month consultation on fracking closed on 31 May this year, to which more than 60,000 people responded.

A further blow for would-be frackers came recently, when an eminent Scottish academic claimed the very nature of the country’s complex geology means fracking is not a viable option and its potential to replace dwindling North Sea oil and gas reserves had been “overhyped”.

READ MORE FROM THE SCOTSMAN ENVIRONMENT SECTION