Fri 12 Aug, 2016

Mark Ruskell MSP

Mid Scotland and Fife
Environment, Climate, Transport and Culture spokesperson

We now know that the first shipment of shale gas produced by fracking is expected to arrive in Scotland very soon.

The sight of the so-called "dragon" fleet of ships docking in Scotland will no doubt get Ineos bosses pushing for fracking to begin in Scotland, but we are not going to allow that to happen. The Scottish Parliament reflected public concern that fracking offers too much risk for too little gain and the time for the Scottish Government to come off the fence has arrived.

Exploration for unconventional gas has come about because sources of gas that were too difficult to extract previously have now become accessible because of technological advances.

However, this is the time to be investing in clean, renewable energy sources, not digging for more fossil fuels. We already have much more gas and oil than we can afford to burn if we are to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global climate change and fracking comes with the added risk of leakage of climate-wrecking methane.

A report by Bloomberg outlines that to replicate the gas output we get from the North Sea with fracking we would need 10,000 to 20,000 wells dotted across the UK countryside in clumps of six to 10 so-called "drilling pads". This is the reality of fracking – a ruined countryside.

The process of fracking usually involves toxic chemicals, meaning there is a potential risk to our water if things go wrong at the drilling stage. There’s no real evidence to suggest it will even bring down fuel prices because we already produce large volumes of gas in the North Sea and our bills are far from low.

The Scottish Greens will always be at the forefront of calls for the Scottish Parliament to have new powers transferred from Westminster. We will also continue to keep campaigning for independence, because we believe it is the people who live in Scotland who can best decide our country’s future. Where Holyrood already has the powers to improve living, work, and environmental standards in Scotland, we need to use them.

Scotland will soon have more powers over shale gas fracking. Section 46 of the Scotland Act gives Holyrood the power to issue licences for companies to search and bore for on-shore petroleum. This means the Scottish Parliament will be able to refuse licences for fracking and we can also knock back fracking companies who come looking for accompanying planning permissions and environmental licences.

The Scottish Government does not yet share our view on fracking. Their moratorium does not mean an outright ban. While it postpones commercial drilling, it doesn’t halt exploration. Industry executives meanwhile privately say the moratorium will not “significantly delay or impact on their fracking plans as it will take several years to finalise their proposals”.

The worst part of the moratorium is that it has resuscitated the belief of chemical giants Ineos that they can begin this hazardous practice in Scotland. It has also encouraged them to launch a new public relations offensive aimed at convincing us that fracking is safe and necessary. It coincides with news that the company’s billionaire owner, Jim Ratcliffe, is ramping up fracking plans by lodging up to 30 planning applications in the UK in the coming months.

However, Grangemouth can have a frack-free future. The refinery can produce synthetic gas and synthetic liquid fuels from feedstock such as sustainable biomass and hydrogen produced using surplus renewable electricity. That’s how we can secure long-term and sustainable jobs on the site.

Meanwhile, the first piece of Scottish Government research into the different unconventional gas technologies will soon be completed and there must be no delay in releasing the findings.

Professor Campbell Gemmell’s report into Underground Coal Gasification could prove to be critical of that technology, sending a strong signal to the whole unconventional gas sector. It could be the tipping point allowing the Scottish Government to deliver an early ban on this technology.

Although not ideal, the Scottish Government’s approach is better than Theresa May’s government at Westminster. It didn’t take long for the new prime minister to show her lack of green credentials, when, in her first week in office, she abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the department that dealt with climate change. Added to that, her government is now seeking to bribe communities that have been opposed to fracking. This supposed Shale Wealth Fund will offer payments to households happy to ignore the underground rumbling.

Scotland is inching closer to becoming a renewables power-house. On Sunday, the strong winds across the country meant that wind turbines covered all of our electricity needs for a day.

We know our dependency on fossil fuels has to end and there would be no greater signal to Ineos and similar companies than to turn a moratorium into an outright ban. Then we’ll know Scotland is truly embarking on a green energy future.

This article first appeared in the National

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