As we head toward the first full month since the Scottish Government launched ‘Talking “Fracking” – A Consultation on Unconventional Oil and Gas’ what else do we need to know in order to provide valuable input into the “cautious, evidence-led approach” to determining the future of shale gas extraction in Scotland?

‘Unconventional’ oil and gas exploration and production involves exploiting oil and natural gas deposits in impermeable rock, which cannot be extracted using the typical methods used in offshore production, for example. The most well-known method of unconventional extraction is hydraulic fracturing (aka ‘fracking’), but the Government’s consultation also considers coal bed methane extraction methods.

Making an informed decision amid the emotionally charged arguments against not necessarily the product, but the method, will be difficult and despite the outcome there may well be an element of ‘wait and see’ following the UK Government’s approval of Cuadrilla’s development in Lancashire and Third Energy’s development in Ryedale, North Yorkshire.

A ‘Report on Unconventional Oil and Gas’ published in 2014 by an Independent Expert Scientific Panel, appointed by the Scottish Government, identified a general lack of information about the potential impacts on communities, economics and the environment, which has caused a degree of controversy.

To fill those gaps, the Scottish Government commissioned six research projects, to look in detail at the impacts of unconventional oil and gas development on transportation, climate change, the economy, and health. The research also considers the issues surrounding seismic activity caused by such developments, and how to ensure appropriate decommissioning, restoration and aftercare is carried out once an extraction site has been exhausted.

With many of Scotland’s shale reserves located in the central belt, often in densely populated areas, it is only right that any consultation is thorough and considered, as is the importance of taking into account public opinion in reaching a decision on whether fracking should be permitted in Scotland.

It has also launched a dedicated website with relevant information, which will be available for the duration of the consultation.

The consultation paper is an interesting read, as it summarises the findings of the Independent Expert Scientific Panel and subsequent research projects.

The future of unconventional oil and gas development is critically important to Scotland’s wider energy policy, and this consultation has been launched in conjunction with a wider consultation on the Government’s draft third Climate Change Plan and the draft Energy Strategy, to ensure a coordinated approach is taken to our energy resourcing.

Responses to the consultation are invited until 31 May 2017.