The shale gas revolution in the US has been a game-changer for the energy market there.
Wholesale energy costs have fallen by some 50%, nearly one million jobs have been created, and they have seen a re-industrialisation of the economy as lower costs have led to manufacturing processes being brought back on-shore.
Moreover, millions of tons of carbon have been saved as shale gas has displaced dirty coal as an energy source.
Meanwhile, here in Scotland energy bills are rising faster than any other commodity, nearly 40% of Scots are mired in fuel poverty and heavy industry is buckling under what are amongst the most expensive energy costs in Europe.
So could we see a repeat here of what happened in the US?
The simple answer is that it is too early to tell, but some of the indications are encouraging.
A recent report from the US Government’s Energy Information Administration calculated that a decade of shale gas reserves sits under the UK in easily recoverable positions, with 10% of this concentrated across the central belt in Scotland.
The report also revealed, and for the first time ever, that swathes of shale oil lie beneath our feet – 700million barrels to be more precise.
In another report the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) stated ‘UK energy intensive industries are increasingly feeling under pressure from rising energy prices’.
The Energy Intensive Users Group highlighted that developing a shale gas industry in the UK has the potential to deliver secure, internationally competitive energy and feedstock supplies that are vital for energy intensive and petrochemicals sectors.”
In that same report, DECC recommended that the drilling expertise employed on the North Sea should be utilised to explore offshore shale gas reserves.
The finite nature of North Sea oil and gas means that we only have a limited window to fully utilise the drilling expertise built up on our northern shores.
The Institute of Directors estimated last year that 35,000 jobs could be created by developing this new industry in the UK.
The clock is ticking and now is the time to act.
Fracking had the worst possible public relations start in the UK, thanks to the small tremors triggered by drilling in Lancashire.
It should be noted that none of the approximately 50,000 horizontal shale wells drilled in North America during the past decade have generated significant earthquakes.
In January 2012 the British Geological Survey noted that the risks of shale development to groundwater and earthquakes had been exaggerated.
Minor earthquakes caused by the Lancashire well were “comparable in size to the frequent minor quakes caused by coal mining.
What’s more, they originate much deeper in the crust so have all but dissipated by the time they reach the surface.”
However this is no basis for complacency and as a result Westminster have developed the world’s most stringent regulatory regime.
Fracking in the UK poses its own unique challenges, extracting shale gas via fracking will be more expensive than it is in the US but I believe it is still a worthwhile resource to pursue.
If the Scottish Government is intent on reducing the diversity of our energy mix by excluding coal and new nuclear, and with imported gas only getting more expensive we must exploit the potential of shale gas, for the sake of hard pressed residents and industry.
Murdo Fraser MSP is convener of the Scottish Parliament’s economy, energy and tourism committee.