I am a huge fan of the Edinburgh International Science Festival and usually try to get to a couple of events each year; first up for 2015 was Engineering our energy future: to frack or not to frack? This was a panel discussion that promised to –
“ask is shale gas a plentiful homegrown option that will plug the energy gap as we progress towards a renewable future or is it an environmental nightmare that will pollute groundwater, trigger earthquakes and ultimately prevent us from investing in renewable energy when we need to?”
The panel was Jim Watson, Director of the UK Energy Research Centre, Dr Clare Bond of the University of Aberdeen and Prof Paul Younger of the University of Glasgow.
First up Professor Jim Watson gave an introduction to fracking in terms of
- climate change – it was suggested there could be a place for fracked gas within the Scottish energy mix if the gas is replacing dirtier coal. He also mentioned the need to compare the carbon emissions from locally produced unconventional gas v importing natural gas from the middle east
- energy security – we were encouraged not to limit our thinking about energy security to geopolitics but to also consider the reliability of the UK’s energy infrastructure. It was noted that no matter where the UK’s gas comes from we need more gas storage facilities.
- affordability – the USA is used an example of how energy prices fall when fracked gas is added to the energy mix. However there is no guarantee that this will happen in Scotland as our geology is different and we’re subject to a much stricter regulatory regime, plus the European energy market is very different.
Dr Clare Bond talked about the environmental costs of extracting unconventional gas over the lifetime of a well. Her findings showed it can be less than natural gas but there are many variables with both types (where it’s from etc) and unknowns with regard to fracking.
She also made some comments on the portrayal of fracking in the media with both sides of the debate being at the extremes. We need to use some common sense while looking at the images. Any readers who are librarians or information scientists will of course already be doing this with our expert knowledge of information literacy 😉
Professor Paul Younger talked to us about the wells used in fracking and some of the concerns around these; he was able to show that the claims of poisoned aquifers and earthquakes are very unlikely to be a problem in Scotland.
Dr Bond stated that there is a need for individual responsibility for energy use but noted that energy is a global issue so it’s not surprising that individuals feel unempowered.
All three speakers called for more engagement with the public with regard to energy policy. Professor Watson called for us to widen the discussion at every level, from global, to communities, to the individual, to be about the energy future that we want instead of reacting to each new development as it is proposed. This to me was the main takeaway message of the evening. I also thank the panel for clearing up many of the myths around fracking.
The Science Festival is on for a few more days so if this whets your appetite for learning new things I urge you to take a look at the website and check out what is still to come.