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Scottish Government opens consultation on fracking

Scottish Government opens consultation on fracking

Fracking - Fotolia

The Scottish Government has launched its consultation on whether or not to introduce fracking or coal bed methane extraction in Scotland.

Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said the consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction, running until 31 May, does not set out a preferred Government stance, but aims to gather views on a “complex and controversial” debate.

While environmental groups urged the Scottish Government to introduce an outright ban, with WWF Scotland director Lang Banks warning that any pro-fracking decision would “fly in the face” of the Scottish Government's commitment to renewables, Scottish Labour accused the SNP of “kicking a final decision on fracking into the long grass”.

Green MSP Mark Ruskell warned that, if necessary, the Scottish Greens would amend the climate bill to force a ban.

But Scottish Conservative MSP Alexander Burnett said the consultation was “another spineless decision by the SNP on the topic of fracking”.

Arguing that fracking can be introduced safely, Burnett said: “It should be looking at the potential for an economic boom and a more secure supply of power for people in Scotland.

“But instead, it’s pandering to the left of the party because it doesn’t want to lose votes in May’s council elections.”

Announcing the consultation, Wheelhouse said: “As most of Scotland’s unconventional oil and gas deposits occur in and around former coalfields and oil shale fields in Scotland’s Central Belt, which contains some of the most densely populated areas of the country, as well as in the area around Canonbie, Dumfriesshire, it is vitally important that communities, businesses and interest groups from across Scotland have an opportunity to put their views across.

The Government said responses will be independently analysed before ministers make a recommendation, which will then go to parliament for a vote. A final decision will be made later this year.

The Scottish Government commissioned six reports into different effects of introducing onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction (UOG) in Scotland last year. But although the health assessment was unable to state if there is a general association between UOG activities and health impacts, the studies found that fracking could cause airborne and waterborne hazards. 

The reports also warn there is a “gap in the regulations” relating to decommissioning and aftercare of onshore wells, and that fracking would make it harder for Scotland to meet its emissions targets.

Calling for the public to engage in the consultation process, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s head of campaigns, Mary Church, said that support for fracking is “at an all-time low”.

She said: “Fracking is bad for the climate, bad for public health and threatens communities across Scotland. Nation-wide resistance led the Scottish Government to call a halt to onshore gas drilling and fracking two years ago. If we don’t turn the current moratorium into a ban, communities across the central belt of Scotland will continue to be at risk from this dirty industry.

“Going after yet more fossil fuels is utterly at odds with the Scottish Government's ambition to be a low carbon world leader. As the climate crisis gets ever more urgent, it's clear there is no place for fracked gas in Scotland's energy future.

“The Scottish Government's own research shows that the economic case for pursuing an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland simply doesn't stand up, while the risks of doing so could be utterly devastating for communities and the environment.

“No state has had a moratorium on fracking, looked at the evidence, and decided it’s a good idea.

“Support for fracking is at an all-time low. People just don't want this dirty, dangerous industry. We will be encouraging people to respond in huge numbers and are confident that they will give a clear signal to the Scottish Government to ban fracking for good.”

The Scottish Government introduced a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland in January 2015.

Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UK Onshore Oil & Gas said: “We hope that the launch of this consultation can lead to a reasoned debate across a wider audience about the future of the onshore oil and gas industry in Scotland.”

“The studies by experts, including Health Protection Scotland, KPMG and the British Geological Survey, clearly demonstrate the case for lifting the moratorium on unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.”

He added: “As an industry based on over 50 years of experience both onshore and offshore, we are confident that hydraulic fracturing can be done safely and environmentally sensitively within the regulatory environment in Scotland.”

The consultation can be found here.

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