EXCLUSIVE by DARA BUTTERFIELD
Callum McCaig SNP MP has laid out the ‘five tests’ required to be passed before fracking for shale gas can go ahead in the UK.
Speaking at The UK 2015 Shale Energy Conference in Glasgow, McCaig- who is the Energy spokesman for the SNP in the House of Commons – said his concerns focused on five main points: safety, economics, environment, public support, and the wider energy mix.
McCaig said: “The Scottish Parliament announced in January that there would be a moratorium on the extraction of oil and gas from shale. Now over the period since that there’s been engagements from the Scottish government with a range of bodies in terms of scoping out the process for how we that evidence gathering will take place.
“On Thursday last week the first minister announced that there will be the scope of that evidence gathering will be put forward before parliament before the October recess.
“The SNP will also have discussions, our policy is at the moment to pursue the evidence, to consult with the public, industry, environmental groups whilst the moratorium is in place. Policies can always change. The SNP is in a state of flux I would say with nearly 100,000 new members, so these things could change, but at the moment that is our policy, and that is the policy of the Scottish government.
“On both sides of the debate there has been a great deal more heat than light. For me there are five aspects that I need more certainty on, I hope all of it will come out of the government consultations. Those five are:
- issues around safety
- issues around the economics
- environmental concerns
- public support and or community benefit
- how it fits into the wider energy mix particularly at a time where we have obligations to reduce our carbon emissions
“Safety: for me, and I would imagine for everyone, this has got to be the absolute prime motivation. If this cannot be done safely, it cannot be done at all.
“Economics: 30% decline in the cost of gas. I’m not convinced at this moment in time that doing so in Scotland will be economical. A real detailed and impartial view on the economic benefit to the country and also the local communities who will have to co-exist with the shale gas extraction.
“Environmental concerns: how does this interact with our natural environment? In Scotland we have a huge food and drink sector that is reliant on the quality of our land and our water if we cannot do this without damaging the environment then again it is something not worth pursuing.
“Perhaps the most difficult one to achieve will be to get public support for this. The horror stories that have circulated have conditioned people’s thinking to a way that would perhaps make it difficult to come back.
“Again I think that’s why they need to have faith in the process the government is undertaking, that all sides need to buy into that and contribute properly and feel they have been listened to. Get that right and I think all sides can have faith in the process, they may not like the outcome but they must have faith in the process.
“Energy mix: clearly if we were to substitute coal with natural gas it would see a huge reduction in terms of our carbon emissions. Scotland has targets that are legally defined of 42% by 2020 and 40% by 2050, so we need to get there and I would like to know how shale fits into that consideration.
“Yes we could see our carbon emissions reduced but we have struggled to reduce emissions in terms of heat, and if were to continue to use gas – gas from different sources – instead of looking at different ways of providing our heat in a non-carbon way then we may struggle with that.
“To say that this is a relatively contentious issue would be to put it mildly. If the government were to be forced into a stance without reviewing the evidence properly, then what was already a contentious issue will become one which the public has absolutely zero faith in.
“I think if we are to engage in this, if this is to happen – and that is an if at this stage – then it does need to carry the support of the public. Scotland may not be a hugely densely populated country but shale is generally found where our population lives so there has got to be careful interaction between oil and gas production onshore and shale and settled communities.
“In England I think we’ve seen an assertive government pushing their dash for gas which may or may not work, we will probably get to a stage where there will be fracking in England but it will be done in the teeth of opposition from local people.
“I don’t think that’s in anyone’s interest. I don’t think that’s in the government’s interest I don’t think that’s in the business’s interest and clearly I don’t think that’s in the interest of the public.
“This is a hugely important issue. Getting it right and if we can pursue shale safely could have a major economic benefit to Scotland. It could create jobs, it could reduce our carbon emissions, and it could see our industries expand.
“Get it wrong and it could be disastrous.”
The UK Shale Energy Conference was organised by the Scottish Energy Association and Scottish Energy News.