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Already, supporters of Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom had their work cut out for them. And now data published June 30 by the British Biological Survey (BGS) shows that oil and gas trapped in the shale of Scotland’s Midland Valley are less than some had hoped.
Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party, had used the promise of shale energy in part as evidence that an independent Scotland could enjoy a future of energy wealth if Scottish voters end their 307-year-old union with the UK when they vote on Sept. 18.
But the BGS report said the oil reserves in the Midland Valley is only 6 billion barrels and 80 trillion cubic feet of gas, far less than the 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Bowland shale in the north of England. Further, it said the amount of energy that can actually be recovered from the shale is expected to be “substantially lower,” and called for further exploratory drilling to reach a more precise estimate.
Mike Stephenson, the science and technology director for the BGS, said recovery of gas and oil in the Midland Valley could be complicated by the region’s “complex geology,” and said far less is known of its shale formation than the Bowland shale and the Weald Basin, in southern England.
The BGS study contrasts with previous, more optimistic estimates. For example, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) has pointed to data from Edinburgh suggesting that Scotland reaped $17 billion in employment and profits from the North Sea energy fields – about two-thirds of all income from that industry.
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In fact, an OPEC report shows that North Sea oil production is not consistently strong. It says North Sea output in 2013 was at its lowest level since 1977, about 10 percent lower than in 2012, when extraction measured 90,000 barrels a day.
In London, Michael Fallon, the UK Business and Energy Minister, said environmentally friendly recovery methods of fossil fuels trapped in shale could contribute importantly to the union’s energy needs.
“Making the most of Britain's homegrown energy is crucial to keep job and business opportunities, widen tax revenues and reduce our reliance on foreign imports,” Fallon said. But he stressed that that source alone will not be enough to meet all the UK’s energy needs.
Such news is not likely to help Salmond in his effort to persuade Scots to support independence. There had been some evidence that the pro-independence “Yes Campaign” had been advancing recently. Yet a poll conducted by YouGov, published July 1 by the Times of London, showed the number of those opposing independence is rising because they fear independence may hurt Scotland’s economy.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com