Gary Haywood: Shale gas is the real green alternative – it’s a shame Friends of the Earth can’t see it


Ineos Shale CEO Gary Haywood hits back at comments made by campaign group Friends of the Earth Scotland in a recent CommonSpace article

WE believe Scotland and the rest of the UK could be heading towards an energy crisis unless we come together and agree a practical strategy for the future. 

As the UK and the world tries to cut dependence on coal to reduce carbon emissions, alternative energy sources must be found. Nuclear energy is one, while renewables will play an increasing role. However, in the short to medium term natural gas is the only alternative to coal that can provide the energy we need with reduced CO2 emissions.

In light of this, I was really disappointed to read a recent article on CommonSpace – Scottish Greens issue fresh call for fracking ban as Ineos urges rethink – in which Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland makes a number of erroneous assertions on their behalf. 

Read more – Calum Miller: Let's reindustrialise Scotland – and let's not write off fracking

For me, this article not only starkly exposes a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of Friends of the Earth Scotland but also how their anti-fossil fuel agenda blinds them to a green rationale for an indigenous supply of gas.

In the article, Mary was quoted as saying: "Any domestic shale gas production would simply be competing with North Sea gas, which doesn’t make any economic sense at all." This statement flies completely in the face of the facts.

The fact is that the UK currently imports around 50 per cent of its gas from overseas due to the decline in production of gas from the North Sea. This figure is forecast to continue to rise. This means that every pound the UK spends on imported gas leaves the country and does not return. 

It’s important to say that indigenous shale gas would not compete with North Sea gas, it would reduce imports, which would reduce emissions, and would provide the UK with a secure supply that is produced under the strict HSE standards we employ in the UK, as well as providing jobs in the UK and taxation to the country.

According to Mary there are "question marks over the economic viability of developing an industry in Scotland". However, remember Ineos is prepared to take the financial risk of finding out if shale gas is viable by gaining an understanding of the shale layer in Scotland (and England) through the thoughtful application of science.

Indigenous shale gas would not compete with North Sea gas, it would reduce imports, which would reduce emissions, and would provide the UK with a secure supply that is produced under the strict HSE standards we employ in the UK, as well as providing jobs in the UK and taxation to the country.

Mary is also quoted as saying there is "ever mounting evidence that fracking can’t be done without unacceptable risks to public health and environments". I challenge Mary and her colleagues at Friends of the Earth Scotland to bring that evidence forward for proper scrutiny in the context of the UK regulatory environment. 

Despite their years of scaremongering they didn’t bring any evidence forward at the public inquiry into the coal bed methane development at Airth, they chose instead to focus on climate change, leaving the by now terrified communities to argue the unarguable and pick up the legal bill for their trouble.

Ineos has previously offered to sit down with Friends of the Earth Scotland to listen to their claims in detail and discuss and debate the veracity of their concerns in the light of science and solid evidence. This offer was made directly to Richard Dixon at the SNP conference last October and his response was, incredibly: "I’ve made up my mind; I don’t want to discuss it with you."

In respect of the current Scottish Government inquiry into unconventional gas, Mary Church said: "How could the current evidence gathering come to any other conclusion than a complete ban on fracking?" That statement is very telling, and can only be answered in one way – let us see what the evidence gathering comes up with – that is what it is for. 

Friends of the Earth Scotland should make submissions to the various experts gathering evidence and justify their assertions with real evidence. All professional and scientifically robust studies in the UK have concluded the same as the previous Scottish Independent Expert Panel’s Report on Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction – that shale gas can be extracted safely if a robust regulatory regime is in place.

Read more – Siobhan Tolland: Why you must question research claiming #fracking is safe

Finally, it is also worth mentioning that this is not a gas versus renewables debate. Renewables must play an increasingly large part in providing energy to our homes and lives, as technology improves and the investments are made. 

However, there is no credible scenario where gas does not provide a large part of our energy needs for decades to come. Eighty-four per cent of UK homes are heated by gas and it has the lowest greenhouse gas impact of any fossil fuel, and hence is the ideal bridging fuel. 

Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Greens should provide a credible scenario to the evidence gathering that shows we do not need gas in these timeframes. They have so far failed to do so.

We believe it is now time that Scottish Friends of the Earth and the Greens acknowledge that Scotland needs gas for decades to come, that an indigenous supply from under our feet is better for both the climate and the economy and that shale gas can be extracted safely within the UK regulatory environment. 

For the good of Scotland, they really should.

Picture courtesy of Beyond Coal & Gas Image Library

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