Environmentalists are more worried about Trump than they are about fracking

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 23 November 2016 in Comment

Six reports commissioned by the Scottish Government on unconventional oil and gas have received very little attention, notes Liam Kirkaldy

Fracking sign - Image credit: Fotolia

In the last couple of weeks Donald Trump was elected US president, UN member states met in Marrakesh to discuss how best to take the Paris climate deal forward, the Scottish Government released its research on fracking, and new figures showed 2016 is likely to be the hottest on record.

What connects these things? On the face of it, very little. Apart from Trump’s success in the US presidential election, all had been scheduled in diaries for a long time.

The climate-change figures were released in connection to the UN climate conference. The analysis, conducted by the World Meteorological Organisation, shows 2016 was the hottest year, globally, on record.

The previous hottest year was 2015. Before that it was 2014. In fact, 16 of the 17 hottest years ever recorded have been in this century.


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The figures offered a reminder to delegates in Marrakesh of why they spent twenty years agreeing the most ambitious climate deal in history.

And it is this same concern over the warming planet which has driven environmental campaigners to fiercely oppose the idea of fracking for onshore shale gas in Scotland.

Fracking – or other forms of underground oil and gas (UOG) – will likely mean more emissions, and greater warming.

The Scottish Government’s own analysis demonstrates as much, finding Scotland could only develop UOG and still meet its climate commitments if emissions were limited through tight regulation, if Scottish UOG production displaced imports, and if emissions from production of UOG are offset through reductions elsewhere in the Scottish economy.

Yet, given just how heated the debate over fracking has been over the last couple of years, the reports generated surprisingly little coverage.

Admittedly, the analysis was not particularly easy to digest. Six different reports, covering health, transport, climate, economy and seismic activity, along with UOG’s implications for decommissioning, made turning around news stories difficult.

And beyond that, it was hard to know what to make of some of the predictions. The economic analysis, for example, forecasts that UOG developments could create anywhere between £100m and £4.6bn, and between 470 and 3,100 new jobs. Which seems a bit vague.

The health assessment too wasn’t exactly conclusive, with the study finding there was “inadequate” evidence to determine whether shale oil and gas extraction would pose a risk to public health.

It is clearly a technical area, yet cynics have suggested the Scottish Government could have done more to make the area accessible to the public, given it will go to public consultation in January.

But then the reports would probably never have got much domestic focus given the way international issues dominated headlines.

In fact, the improbable rise of Trump to high office seems to have eclipsed almost everything else over the past couple of weeks.

And with good reason. It is probably fair to say environmental groups in Scotland are far more worried about Trump than they are about fracking.

After all, this is a man who has previously claimed: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”

And it is this change that had delegates at the Marrakesh climate talks worried, with rumours emerging that Trump would mark the conference by announcing plans to pull out of the Paris deal, among other environmental agreements.

Pulling out should be a four-year process, though there have been claims Trump may try to use more unorthodox means – for example, simply issuing a presidential order to remove the US signature from the Paris accord – to get out of the commitment.

In that context, given the US is one of the world’s two biggest emitters, concern over fracking seems much less significant.

President-elect Trump may have promised to Make America Great Again, but in doing so he could undo years of progress on climate change.

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