Geology’s ‘rock star’ talks fracking

Professor Iain Stewart
Professor Iain Stewart

Geologist and broadcaster Professor Iain Stewart is giving a free lecture on fracking at Hawick tonight (Thursday, November 27).

The geoscience communication professor at Plymouth University is best known as a presenter of several science programmes for the BBC, including the BAFTA-nominated Earth: The Power of the Planet.

The free public talk at Hawick High School is the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s (RSE) Christmas Lecture.

Entitled Meet the Frackers: A Geological Perspective on UK Shale Gas, the East Kilbride-born geologist, known to some as geology’s “rock star”, will discuss whether shale gas is a resource that should be exploited or not.

Professor Stewart told The Southern: “I’m neither against fracking, nor am I convinced that it is going to be the answer to energy supplies.

“The worry that a lot of people have, that we will have an environmental armageddon, is, I think, a misconception from looking at the American experience. I don’t see that happening here and actually it’s like any other industrial activity to do with energy: it comes with some risks and benefits and it’s very much up to the local community and how they balance those up. I don’t think it’s one size fits all.”

He says he hopes to give a mixed balanced account of fracking and listen to what people think about it themselves.

“The society is interested in getting science out to the broader public. The first talk was in Fort William – it was only sensible to do one in the south and I’m delighted to do it,” he said.

He continued: “I love talks when you can see into the eyes of the audience, the spontaneity and immediacy you get. You have to give an interesting talk, because people have taken time out of their lives to attend. It’s about trying to engage people in something and responding to what their interest is.”

He is familiar with the western Borders because of regular childhood holidays near Dumfries. And he says the area is interesting from a geological point of view because the area used to be under ocean, with the rocks which form the Southern Uplands (formerly part of an ancient seabed which separated England and Scotland) pushed up when continents collided over 400 million years ago.

Professor Stewart, a former child actor, is a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, president of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and he also serves on the Scientific Board of UNESCO’s International Geoscience Programme.

After graduating with a degree in Geology and Earth Science from Strathclyde University in 1986, he gained a PhD in earthquake geology at Bristol University in 1990, before lecturing in Earth sciences at Brunel University in west London until 2002.

Past research has included finding traces of ancient earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, and understanding how they could help address future natural disaster threats, which led to his first solo television series, Journeys From The Centre of The Earth.

Other programmes includied Earth: The Power of the Planet, Earth: The Climate Wars, How Earth Made Us, How To Grow A Planet and Volcano Live.

He’s now juggling teaching and administration duties at Plymouth University with filming, talks, research and school visits. He is president of the Earth Science Teacher’s Association. He received an MBE for services to geology and science communication last year, when he was also awarded the American Geophysical Union’s Athelstan Spilhaus Award for enhancing public engagement with Earth and space sciences.