By Angela Haggerty
Pressure is mounting on the Scottish Government to oppose fracking for shale gas north of the border following a decision by UK Chancellor George Osborne to offer tax breaks to encourage the highly controversial technique.
The practice is used to extract shale gas by pumping chemicals and water into rocks below the earth’s surface to force the gas out and campaigners have raised strong fears about harmful environmental effects such as earthquakes, air pollution and poisoned water supplies.
The move from the chancellor to more than halve the amount of tax due from production, drew condemnation from the Church of Scotland and environmental groups. Director of WWF Scotland, Lang Banks, described the tax breaks as “bribes” and urged Scottish ministers to use “all the powers at their disposal” to reject the plans, while Mr Osborne said he aimed to create the “most generous” circumstances for shale gas in the world.
Head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, Andrew Pendleton, said: “Promising tax hand-outs to polluting energy firms that threaten our communities and environment, when everyone else is being told to tighten their belts, is a disgrace.
“Ministers should be encouraging investors to develop the nation’s huge renewable energy potential. This would create tens of thousands of jobs and wean the nation off its increasingly expensive fossil fuel dependency.”
Earlier this month, it emerged shale gas outfit Cuadrilla intended to apply for planning permission to carry out more fracking operations in Lancashire. The company was given permission at the end of last year to resume drilling in the area following two tremors near Blackpool in 2011. Energy secretary Ed Davey said risks had been reduced after management weaknesses were rectified, and added that the controversial method must be safe and the public “must be confident that it is safe”.
However, the government was slammed by Friends of the Earth after it was revealed new planning guidance on fracking for local authorities provided by government would not be open to public consultation, describing the plans as “little more than carte blanche” to dispatch “dirty energy companies” into the British countryside.
In the US, the production of shale gas has brought energy prices significantly lower and UK supporters of the technique hope the same could be achieved in Britain, but campaigners have warned the plans could scupper the country’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and Mr Pendleton questioned the legitimacy of claims of cost reductions for consumers.
“This could threaten communities’ quality of life and will mean more climate-changing pollution being pumped into our atmosphere – and despite all the hype, there’s plenty of evidence that it won’t lead to cheaper fuel bills,” he said.
“These damaging proposals should be ripped up and replaced with planning guidelines that safeguard the long-term future of people and the planet.”
Energy secretary Ed Davey admitted last year that greenhouse gases from shale gas in the UK would be greater than the country’s current system of importing gas, but said home-grown extraction was a better option.
Under new plans from the government to support the practice, shale gas drilling areas will receive £100,000 in community benefits and one per cent of revenues.