Claims government is on “the long road” to a 2017 ban on fracking
OPPONENTS of unconventional gas extraction, known as fracking, have seized on the Scottish Government’s new independent reports on the technology to call for a full ban.
The long-running dispute over fracking has been at the centre of political controversy for a number of years in Scotland, with environmentalists campaigning energetically for a permanent block on further fossil fuel drilling.
In a major landmark in the debate, the Scottish Government has published its extensive independently sourced research – which it claims provides crucial evidence to inform a wider debate on an eventual policy decision in 2017.
Minister for Business, Innovation & Energy Paul Wheelhouse MSP set-out the publications to the Scottish Parliament – but declined to take a government position for or against fracking.
“No one study can give a conclusive view on this industry and whether or not it has a future in Scotland’s energy mix,” Wheelhouse said.
“Some will say that this research shows the economic impact is low and the risks too great. Others that the risk can be managed and the potential economic gain cannot be ignored.”
The reports – which run to a length of several hundred pages – make no explicit recommendations, but do set out various interpretations of the risks and challenges of fracking technology.
While Wheelhouse promised a ‘cautious and consultative’ approach with a further public process in the new year, opponents of fracking said the evidence should form the basis of a fracking ban.
Labour MSP Claudia Beamish, who is leading a private members bill on a fracking ban, said that the “climate change science is irrefutable” and warned that its expansion would undermine current climate targets.
Jackie Baillie pointed to the job and economic projections in the reports – which Wheelhouse said would represent just 0.1 per cent of the country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – and suggested this was not worth the environmental risks of fracking.
Critical questions also came from SNP MSPs Joan McAlpine and Ivan McKee, who highlighted risks of fracking development.
Scottish Greens spokesperson pointed to the NHS Scotland fracking evaluation that air and waterborne hazards were “likely to occur” as a result of fracking.
The Tories, whose leaders at Westminster are keen to develop fracking, questioned the slow timetable for a policy decision.
Alexander Burnett MSP said it was “simply breath-taking…[that there remains] no timescale for a decision on fracking. Scotland’s industry and consumers need direction.”
The Scottish Government originally announced a moratorium on fracking in January of 2015. Almost two years later no final decision has been reached despite frenzied corporate and campaigning pressure.
Chemicals multinational Ineos, owners of the Grangemouth refinery, have been keen for fracking to get the green light – and lobbied the SNP’s party conference to spread pro-fracking arguments, including promises of extra jobs and investments.
However, community groups like ‘Scotland Against Fracking’, campaign group Friends of the Earth, and SNP members’ organisation ‘SNP Members Against Unconventional Gas’ (Smaug) have all pushed for a full ban.
Last month Wheelhouse announced a ban on underground coal gasification after an independent review process. The decision raised hopes that the government will follow a similar timetable over fracking.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the publications showed the government was on “the long road” to a fracking ban.
Picture courtesy of Ric Lander
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