Westminster ‘Gung-Ho’ approach to Fracking criticised

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There is a clear contrast between Westminster’s “gung-ho” approach to Fracking, and the evidence-based, consensual approach being pursued by the Scottish Government, the SNP has said.

The claim followed an announcement from Westminster of fracking licenses for vast swathes of the central belt, despite having failed to consult the Scottish Government.

By Lynda Williamson

There is a clear contrast between Westminster’s “gung-ho” approach to Fracking, and the evidence-based, consensual approach being pursued by the Scottish Government, the SNP has said.

The claim followed an announcement from Westminster of fracking licenses for vast swathes of the central belt, despite having failed to consult the Scottish Government.

The Scottish government has instead welcomed a report from the independent Expert Scientific Panel on Unconventional Oil and Gas which calls for a more careful consideration of the regulatory regime.

Scottish ministers are to set up a working Group to consider the findings of the report.

Angus Macdonald, SNP MSP for Falkirk East, also welcomed an acknowledgement from Ministers that the views of local communities are of prime importance.  Their views are expected to be fed into a working group on the issue which will consider the independent panel’s findings and consider how the regulatory regime can be further strengthened.

Commenting, Mr Macdonald said:

“The UK Government’s gung-ho approach to announce fracking licenses for vast swathes of the Central Belt and complete failure to consult the Scottish Government is totally irresponsible but sadly typical.

“Whatever people’s views about unconventional oil and gas surely Scotland should make the decisions about any industry development that may happen here.

“The views of local communities are of prime importance to me – I am pleased to say that people in Scotland will have an opportunity to feed their views and concerns into the Scottish Government’s Working Group.

“It is reassuring to note that in Scotland the Scottish Government’s Expert Scientific Panel which has found that much of the regulatory regime is already in place to ensure effective monitoring and control of unconventional oil and gas developments.

“Only a Yes vote in September will allow responsible and accountable Governments in Scotland to ensure that communities in this country are consulted from the very start of any future plans and developments on this and other energy sourcing matters.”

The Expert Scientific Panel report comes on the same day that the UK government launches the 14th round of onshore oil and gas licensing, in which shale and coalbed methane licenses are being offered to Fracking companies across a vast swathe of Scotland.

Fracking involves blasting water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock formations to release the gas and oil held inside.

The UK coalition’s Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock said: “Unlocking shale gas in Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth.

“We must act carefully, minimising risks, to explore how much of our large resource can be recovered to give the UK a new home-grown source of energy.  As one of the cleanest fossil fuels, shale gas can be a key part of the UK’s answer to climate change and a bridge to a much greener future.

“The new guidance published today will protect Britain’s great national parks and outstanding landscapes. Building on the existing rules that ensure operational best practices are implemented and robustly enforced. Ultimately, done right, speeding up shale will mean more jobs and opportunities for people and help ensure long-term economic and energy security for our country.”  

However, Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Campaigns, Mary Church called for a moratorium on unconventional gas extraction, saying:

“This expert independent report raises a number of very serious concerns related to unconventional fossil fuel extraction including impacts on public health and climate. The analysis clearly demonstrates that even if all the environmental, health and regulatory issues could be overcome, there still wouldn’t be a US-style bonanza here, simply because the cost of extraction and the technical and geological challenges are too great.

“It is simply wishful thinking to imagine that it is possible to safely frack for unconventional gas in the most densely populated part of the country.

“The Expert Panel had a very broad remit to cover in a short period of time, so we welcome the Scottish Energy Minister’s acknowledgement that more work needs to be done, particularly in terms of health, public acceptability and regulatory gaps.

“However, unconventional gas exploitation isn’t some far off prospect that gives Government time to play with to get things right. Communities in Scotland are facing commercial coalbed methane extraction on their doorsteps in the coming months.

“There is nothing in the findings of the Expert Panel to suggest that the precautionary principle should not apply to fracking. The Scottish Government should immediately put a moratorium on all unconventional gas extraction at least until a full strategic assessment of the public health implications has been carried out.”

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian and a member of Holyrood’s economy and energy committee, agreed, commenting that:

“Communities across Scotland are rightly concerned at the hype surrounding shale, with thousands of people in the Falkirk and Stirling areas already voicing opposition to gas extraction proposals there. I would again urge Scottish ministers to ban any such developments and instead focus on Scotland’s undoubted potential for clean, renewable energy and the high quality employment already being created.”

Reporters from the Department for Planning and Environmental Appeals are presently taking evidence in Dart Energy’s application for commercial coalbed methane extraction at Airth.  The plans are opposed by thousands of people in the local area, and by Falkirk and Stirling Councils.  

The Scottish Government’s tightening of planning rules, means licenses north of the border are likely to be a less attractive option to fracking companies. The Scottish government is said to be saddened by the fact that the UK government failed to consult them before the announcement.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change’s announcement invites companies to tender for exclusive rights to exploit shale gas and other unconventional fossil fuels.

The launch of this latest licensing round – the first in 6 years – follows the publication of research from the British Geological Survey that indicated only a modest amount of shale gas and oil in the Scotland’s central belt. The report also noted the challenges of extracting the resource in the complex geological formations in this area.