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University's fracking report 'was written by energy firm director'

MSP calls for greater transparency after report urges slackening of regulations.

Generic Fracking pic Shale Gas CC licensed from 70023venus2009
70023venus2009

An MSP says more transparency is needed from academics contributing to research papers, after pointing out that an author of a report on fracking is associated with an energy company involved in unconventional gas extraction.

Joan McAlpine said it was "important to see the full picture" in the case of a paper by engineers at Glasgow University which suggests government rules to curb tremors from fracking are unnecessarily restrictive and should be eased.

The research was published this week in the Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology and then picked up by other media outlets.

Professor Paul Younger, who contributed to the report, is an unpaid non-executive director with Newcastle-based energy company Five-Quarter which is involved in the extraction of so-called unconventional gas from rocks below the North Sea.

Professor Younger said the business has no involvement with fracking, shale gas or the coalbed methane sectors, and his association with Five-Quarter has been long known.

Ms McAlpine, SNP MSP for the South of Scotland, said: "There is a great deal of overlap between the unconventionals industry and academia. While I do not dispute Professor's Younger's academic credentials, it is important to see the full picture.

"I was surprised that the academic journal itself has nothing online that reveals Professor Younger's position on the board of Five-Quarter. While the company is pursuing a form of underground coal gasification, rather than fracking, it is still part of the unconventionals industry.

"I was also surprised that the academic journal itself has nothing online that reveals Professor Younger’s position on the board of Five Quarter. While the company is pursuing a form of underground coal gasification, rather than fracking, it is still part of the unconventionals industry. The connection with Buccleuch, a major shareholder in Five Quarter, is also significant."

'Reputable'

The term unconventional gas refers to different types of natural gas held in reservoirs not traditionally exploited and is typically from underground shale rock and coal formations, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).

Hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure deep underground to fracture shale rock and release the gas trapped in it.

The report by Dr Rob Westaway and Professor Younger suggests the risk of serious earthquakes caused by fracking activity is lower than feared.

Dr Westaway said that "if regulations for other vibration-causing activities were similarly restrictive you'd have to prevent buses from driving in built-up areas or outlaw slamming wooden doors."

Ms McAlpine is supporting constituents in Canonbie, Dumfriesshire, who oppose proposals by Buccleuch Estates to extract methane gas from coal bed sites in the area. The Buccleuch Group is a shareholder in Five-Quarter.

Professor Younger said: "My association with Five-Quarter, for which I am an unpaid non-executive director, has long been public knowledge. Five-Quarter is a start-up company targeting only offshore resources: it has no involvement with fracking, nor with the shale gas or coalbed methane sectors.

"The report into fracking that was published earlier this week in the reputable Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology is a substantial piece of independent academic research which was led by a colleague at the University of Glasgow who has no involvement with Five-Quarter or any other company.

"To suggest that the study was influenced in any way by my association with Five-Quarter is disingenuous: that company is developing completely different technologies."

Five-Quarter describes its method of gas extraction as "clean and pioneering". It involves the drilling of narrow boreholes up to 2km below the seabed into which oxygen and steam are injected.

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