To frack or not to frack?

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 ūüėČ

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.



Before I became a law librarian I studied environmental science, I may never have used my BSc professionally but my interest in environmental topics remains, therefore I look out for relevant talks and events in Edinburgh; in the past fortnight I have attended two Edinburgh International Science Festival events about energy.

The first was a visit to the FloWave TT wave test tank at Edinburgh University’s King’s Buildings campus. having spent some time researching wave and tidal energy technologies at work I was interested to see a tank in reality, sadly there were no devices being tested in the tank but I did get to see it “perform” in terms of waves and current.¬†Before the tank demonstration¬†there was a series of interesting talks from Edinburgh University staff about renewable energy policies, the history of wave tanks at Edinburgh University, and testing wave and tidal energy devices at the EMEC sites in Orkney. Then it was on to the tank itself (if you are interested in the specifications see the FloWave website). We were shown the tank producing a variety of waves and currents of different speeds. I snapped a couple of photos of the waves.

rough sea Sine wave

The second event was a panel discussion on the perfect mix of energy in an independent Scotland, Lesley Riddoch chaired as Dr David Toke (Aberdeen University), Dr Paul Harding (Urenco), Professor Gordon Hughes (Edinburgh University) and Marco Biagi (MSP)¬†talked about their areas of expertise and then discussed various points before opening up the debate for public questions. I think all the panel were agreed that renewables are a good thing for Scotland but there were many other points of contention. First being what will provide the baseload of electricity for days when the wind turbines aren’t producing – gas or nuclear? ¬†The low-carbon choice is nuclear but many seemed against this. There were also heated discussions over the relationship between Scotland and England and the rest of Europe and how and where energy will be bought and sold and the role of the big 6 energy companies. It was an interesting debate but inevitably no conclusion could be reached.

Why am I blogging about personal interest stuff in a library blog? Because as well as being a personal interest energy is an important sector for the firm I work at, increasing my knowledge of the sectors we work in helps me to perform better in answering enquiries and doing research for the lawyers. ¬†We don’t just do legal research in the library but business research too and as I mentioned above recently I have been lucky enough to be asked to do research on parts of the renewable energy sector, I’ve made my interest in the sector known to the lawyers and I hope this may lead to more interesting research coming the way of the library.

In addition to going to talks and tours which I’ve found for myself I have also been attending training sessions at work, our trainees lawyers have lots of seat specific training at lunchtimes and I have been attending some of these; so far I have been to the seminars for Scottish property law and for construction law. I have found them to be particularly¬†useful in increasing my understanding of the practical side of the¬†work we do¬†which is helpful in understanding how to support the lawyers. It also helps in “marketing” our services to be seen at these sessions, I have found everyone to be very welcoming to me and happy that I am interested enough in their specialist topic to give up my lunchtime to listen to them. I intend to keep attending these sorts of sessions when appropriate, it may take a little of my own time but the results are absolutely worth it.

Centre for Research Collections

I can’t resist visiting other libraries so I signed up right away when I spotted a tour of the Centre for Research Collections in Edinburgh University Library in the Edinburgh International Science Festival programme. So Saturday morning, bright and early I dragged a rather reluctant boyfriend along to the library for the tour.

We were rather a small group and I gather there was some concern that the tour had been too hidden away in the Science Festival programme. The tour was excellent so it is definitely worth having a very good look at the Science Festival programme to see what gems are hidden away in it, this year they also offered a tour of the library at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The tour started right at the top of the library building in the refurbished reception and public reading room area. I didn’t think to take any photos so you’ll need to take my word for it that it’s a nice bright welcoming space with a lovely view over a roof terrace towards the Pentland Hills. ¬†There are rather a lot of CCTV cameras in the reading room, don’t bother trying to do anything bad to the collections, you will be seen!! ¬†While on this floor we had a very short moment to look at the exhibition cases in passing, these contain material to give a taster of the collections.

We moved downstairs to the behind the scenes part of the tour after this, starting with the conservation room where we met a conservator working on an archive of material relating to HIV in Edinburgh. Although this is recent material it still requires conservation because of the mixed media in the collection. For example it contains education packs for schools, condoms and badges, these have required special boxes to avoid damage to the paper archive from the gases from deteriorating plastics and the awkward shapes of the plastic material.

In the hi-tec digital imaging room we heard about some of the problems of getting good images when the room is near the lift causing vibrations to the camera and looked online at the projects where the Centre has added images, these include flickr and europeana.

We also looked at an archive of older photographic materiel from¬†Prof Sir Godfrey Thomson Papers which are an¬†investigation into human intelligence to improve education. There was a sample of children taken the year my dad was born, I wonder if I looked through the archive if I would find material on my own family ….

In the next room we had short talks from two archivists, the first on the development of the science of genetics at Edinburgh University through the papers of the Conrad Hal Waddington and James Cossar Ewart, and animal genetics through the papers of the Institute of Animal Genetics, the Roslin Institute and associated scientists. I really liked the informal photos of the scientists, showing that¬†even in old archive material on a scientific¬†subject there are fun items. There are also more recent items such as magazines with items on the Dolly, the sheep cloned at the Roslin Institute. ¬†We also looked at the Professor Norman Dott papers which give an insight into the development of neurosurgery in Edinburgh, these include the post mortem result on Professor’s Dott’s dog!

We ended the tour in one of the store rooms for the Lothian Health Services Archive and heard a little about cataloguing the patient case notes in the archive to make the information more accessible while still complying with data protection laws. This looks like it will be a really useful resource for medical researchers, social scientists and family historians.

Before the visit I had no idea that the University Library holds such a rich collection of archive material and that this is available to the general public to consult; I will certainly be looking further at their flickr page to see more of the collections.

And the reluctant boyfriend? He really enjoyed the visit and even left his contact details to get more information about something he spotted in the archive!