The Institute of Directors in Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to lift its ban on fracking or face severe energy disruption in the near future. According to the Institute, which represents 1,800 businesses in Scotland:
“We are severely concerned that there will be a power shortage by the end of the decade. There seems to be a gap emerging between the electricity we demand and what we are able to produce and we are not going to meet that just from wind and other renewables.”
The Scottish Government has emerged as a world-leader on renewable energy generation, investing directly in several large renewable projects. However, these are unlikely to be completed until well into the next decade; whereas business could run out of power in just a few years – bear in mind that this is in a country that just a few years ago was expected to be overflowing with new North Sea gas supplies.
That business sees fracking as an answer to looming energy shortages is more a triumph of the energy companies’ PR efforts than any established science. Because while there is a great deal of hydrocarbon-bearing rock beneath the British Isles, it is entirely misleading to refer to these – as the Institute does – as a reserve. The term “reserve” refers to the amount of gas that is technically and profitably recoverable at any time. To discover Scotland’s actual reserve of shale gas would involve drilling and hydraulically fracturing several hundred wells in each shale formation; something that nobody has yet done.
This is a key reason why fracking is a dangerous gamble. If there is a large volume of recoverable gas beneath the UK, then we might keep the lights on for another decade (although at huge environmental cost). But we are just as likely to find that our twisted and tortured geology will render most of the resource unrecoverable. Moreover, the cost of recovering that fraction of the resource that is technically accessible may come at such a high cost that it is unprofitable.
Given the risk that fracking may not deliver, the Institute of Directors in Scotland would better serve their 1,800 members by encouraging them to take the Scottish Government’s lead and invest in their own renewable energy generation. They might also do Scottish businesses a great service by helping them understand and reverse the huge energy wastage that results from the belief that we will have access to cheap fossil carbon energy forever.