UK Energy minister piles political pressure on Sturgeon to drop Scottish shale gas moratorium

Andrea Leadsom MP
Andrea Leadsom MP
Nicola Sturgeon, MSP
Nicola Sturgeon, MSP

By JAMES ROBERTSON, Political & Parliamentary Correspondent

The UK Government’s junior energy minister has called on the SNP-led Scottish government to drop its ‘temporary’ moratorium on exploring for onshore shale gas.

Andrea Leadsom told MPs that North Sea oil and gas workers who lose their jobs should be given the chance to work in the fracking industry.

She said she would be “delighted” if the Scottish Government drops its opposition to the shale gas industry as Westminster and Holyrood work to establish how those left unemployed by the downturn can continue working in the energy sector.

Falls in the oil price have hit the North Sea oil and gas industry and raised concerns over its long-term future, although moves to introduce shale gas extraction have provoked opposition across the UK.

Former Conservative minister Peter Lilley criticised the Scottish Government’s “hypocrisy” over shale energy.

He said: “While sympathising with the constituents of (Hannah Bardell, SNP MP for Livingston) who have lost their jobs in the North Sea, would not the best thing for them be to create new jobs by allowing fracking in Scotland for the very people with those skills who are being prevented from the prospect of such jobs by the hypocrisy of the SNP Government in Scotland?”

Leadsom replied: “I absolutely agree with you. Obviously, it’s a matter for the Scottish Government to decide. But certainly one of the policy options I’m looking at in my department <DECC> together with (the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), is what more we can do in the energy space for those who have lost their jobs.

“So, for example, an experienced offshore engineer may well be able to retrain to work with offshore wind, for example, or even with nuclear.

“So there are other opportunities in the energy space and I know the Scottish Government is looking at this and I certainly would be delighted if they wanted to think again about the importance of shale gas.”

As revealed – exclusively in Scottish Energy News – First Minister-designate Nicola Sturgeon said in the SNP’s Holyrood manifesto that she was ‘deeply sceptical’ about shale energy sector.

By doing so, she effectively ‘outed’ Fergus Ewing, Scottish Energy Minister, who has maintained a politically-neutral public position on the pros and cons of shale energy in Scotland after he announced the temporary moratorium on fracking in January last year.

Yesterday, Sturgeon announced that the Finance Minister portfolio would be split in two, with Deputy First Minister-designate John Swinney focussing on tax and spending, while a new – but as yet un-named – Business Minister would focus on enterprise and the economy.

Fergus Ewing’s full official title is Scottish Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism.

Holyrood observers are puzzled about four un-answered questions arising from this apparently incomplete mini-ministerial shuffle by Sturgeon; namely;

  • Why has she simply not already appointed Ewing as the new Business and Economy Minister?If so, will he also retain the ‘Energy’ part of his (present) portfolio?
  • How much pressure is Sturgeon under to agree to both demands from the newly-enlarged group of six Green MSPs – as well as from sections of her own party – to totally, and permanently, proscribe shale energy exploration in Scotland?
  • What will happen to the post of – and/or who will fill it –  Scottish Environment Minister after the SNP’s Aileen McLeod, who held the job in the last parliament, was defeated by the Tories in Galloway and West Dumfries last week?

Meanwhile, the SNP were stung into political retaliation by Leadsom’s comments on the Scottish shale moratorium.

MP Callum McCaig (Aberdeen South) – the party’s energy spokesman in House of Comments – retorted by condemning the UK government for running Scotland’s energy sector “by remote control” from Westminster as UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has yet to visit Scotland despite being in post for a year. 

He said: “The UK government announced cuts to subsidies for biomass, anaerobic digestion, bio-gas, solar and wind – cuts which could see a loss of investment of up to £3 billion, puts more than 5,000 jobs at risk and endanger Scotland’s position at the forefront of the renewables industry.

“Given the damaging cuts we have seen from the UK government – it seems as if Amber Rudd is afraid to show her face, and witness first-hand the consequences of the Tories’ decisions.”

 

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