Former Labour Energy Minister tells Scot-Govt to ‘get fracking!’

Brian Wilson, former Labour MP and UK Energy Minister
Brian Wilson, former Labour MP and UK Energy Minister

Analysis from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) shows that an estimated 3,910,000 Scots live in areas of the country where companies could bid for licences to explore for onshore oil and gas.

Released by the Labour Party, MSP Claudia Beamish, who is the party’s Environment spokesman, said: “The places most at risk from fracking are highly populated parts of urban central Scotland.

“Given those figures, SNP ministers should back my bid to change the law and ban fracking in Scotland.

“The climate science behind fracking is clear – Scotland does not need a new fossil fuel as we shift towards a low carbon economy and people do not want companies drilling under their homes for gas.

“That’s why an overwhelming percentage of people who responded to my consultation backed a ban.”

But her views have met strong opposition from a former Labour MP in Scotland.

Brian Wilson, who was also a UK Energy Minister, explained: “When the Scottish Government established a panel of experts four years ago to investigate arguments for and against developing unconventional oil and gas < ‘fracking’> they were – quite specifically -asked not to make recommendations

“But even without recommendations, there was little doubt about which way the report pointed. Scotland’s geology suggested ‘significant reserves’ of unconventional oil and gas while “the regulatory impact is largely in place to control the potential environmental impacts”.

“The report acknowledged concerns about ‘technical risks’ and ‘social impacts on communities’ but observed: ‘Many of these can be mitigated if they are carefully considered at the planning application stage. Added to which, there are already considerable legislative safeguards to ensure such impacts are not realised’.

“Armed with this report, the Scottish Government should simply have concurred with its conclusions (even though it had not been allowed to make explicit recommendations) and opened its doors to <fracking> applications, probably in what the report termed “the Midland Valley of Scotland’.

“But with the independence referendum in the offing and critics baying for an outright ban, they did no such thing. Instead, we got the moratorium – a delay. It was not until this year, three years after receiving the expert report, that the next tentative step was taken with the launch of a public consultation.

“It seems unlikely that it will throw up anything new. Delay has served its short-term purpose – though not, it seems, very satisfactorily from an SNP perspective. Now, unless another time barrier is broken, a decision on what to do about the moratorium must be made within the next three months.

“One changing factor is that relying on imported gas is an ever more uncertain bet. There is plenty of it in the world but political instability, from Russia to Qatar, is the order of the day. The case for using what is under our feet seems overwhelming unless there is some convincing argument against it.

“What is that answer? According to the World Wildlife Fund, the argument is that we should not be increasing reliance on fossil fuels, which I would find no difficulty in agreeing with. But then, as the GMB union points out, the question is not whether we rely on gas, but where that gas will come from.

“Almost 80% of Scottish households rely on gas for heating and 30% of Scottish businesses are gas-dependent.

“However worthy the efforts to reduce these figures, it will be a long time before the crucial question becomes “whether” we need gas rather than “where” it comes from.

“Then, of course, there is Grangemouth and Ineos, currently importing US fracked gas by the tanker-load. Again, there really has to be a compelling argument to overcome the obvious one – that Scottish fracked gas is in no way morally inferior to US fracked gas.

“It is the fracking boom which has turned the US into an exporter and brought global prices tumbling, to the great detriment of the North Sea.

“Should we not reciprocate, even a little bit, by replacing US imports to Grangemouth with a supply that gives our own people jobs?

“Each potential site will be different and the lugubrious Scottish planning system will undoubtedly continue to ensure that nothing happens very soon. But the first step should be to lift the moratorium – the delaying mechanism – and focus on specific cases, with specific features, with implications for specific communities.

“That way, democratic decisions will eventually emerge.

“Maintaining a moratorium is simply not credible and would be judged – correctly – not as an act of high principle, but a timorous refusal to take a decision in principle which would allow rational discussion to proceed.”

11 Aug 2017

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