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Unconventional gas and the environment: What is it and how it is regulated?

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Seminar
14 May 2013, 11am: Free
at the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen
for scientists, researchers and other interested parties
Gas cooker ring

The James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen is hosting two talks illustrating the arguments for shale gas production as well as the regulatory framework to address the environmental risks. It will be broadcast live to the Dundee site. The seminar is being hosted by Dr Justin Irvine of Ecological Sciences.

Why shale gas is good for Scotland and why Scotland is good for shale gas

Graham Dean, Reach Coal Seam Gas

Shale gas has transformed the economies of some US states such as Pennsylvania. Shale gas production in Scotland and northern England will overtake North Sea gas production, creating 20,000 – 50,000 long term jobs, many of which will be in Scotland. Shale gas may help keep gas prices low and shale gas will lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Scotland has the potential to be the Pennsylvania of Europe.

Graham Dean works for Reach Coal Seam Gas which is one of the companies that holds an onshore hydrocarbon licence in the UK. The Reach licence covers 400 km2 in the Scottish Midland Valley and is prospective for shale gas in the early Carboniferous West Lothian Oil Shale Formation. Graham is an engineer and petrophysicist with a long undistinguished career in the oil and gas upstream industry working in Business Development, Strategic Planning, Petroleum Engineering and Petrophysics.

Understanding the environmental regulations that apply to unconventional gas extraction

Emma Taylor, SEPA

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is Scotland’s environmental regulator. SEPA published its Regulatory Guidance on Coal Bed Methane and Shale Gas in November 2012. Our main role is to protect and improve the environment. We protect communities by regulating activities that can cause harmful pollution and by monitoring the quality of Scotland's air, land and water. The regulations we implement also cover the keeping and use, and the accumulation and disposal, of radioactive substances.

Unconventional gas extraction involves drilling a borehole into a particular geological formation (shale or coal seam) and extracting gas which is then used to generate electricity or for injecting into the national gas grid. This can present several risks to the water environment including:

  • cross contamination of aquifers due to poor borehole construction
  • pollution from an unexpected release of gas or fracturing fluid into other parts of the water environment
  • pollution from an uncontrolled disposal of liquid or solid waste containing potentially polluting substances
  • abstraction of uncontrolled quantities of water for fracturing operations leading to an unacceptable impact of the water environment
  • leaks of gas to the atmosphere (also known as fugitive emissions)
  • spills from fluids that come to the surface from storage tanks or lagoons.

In addition, the use of unconventional gas could lead to delays to the programme of conversion to renewable energy sources causing a delay in meeting greenhouse gas reduction and decarbonisation of the energy sector targets.


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.