At what point will the Scottish Government’s moratorium on hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – developments end? How conclusive will the scientific evidence on the geological and environmental impact be?
Even more to the point, will it be thorough enough to refute Ineos Upstream’s Gary Haywood’s warning about the future of the industrial site at Grangemouth (your report, 11 February)?
Memories of the dispute in late 2013 are still vivid. There was a distinct prospect that Scotland’s industrial sinews could have been removed altogether.
The danger of that prompted unlikely liaisons between the then First Minister Alex Salmond, Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael, the leader of the main trade union concerned Len McCluskey, and the plant’s owner Jim Ratcliffe.
Out of that came a three-year no-strike agreement, a wage freeze and government grants designed to ensure the competitive position of the complex. It prompted a collective sigh of relief from all concerned that the country’s economic base should remain secure.
It seems likely that a similar scenario will emerge in a few years. This is where power politics will come into play and the issue of fracking becomes more than an obscure environmental argument.
Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy would soon learn that politics is not simply the arena of morals. It is the arena of interests.
Ineos will want an indigenous source of shale gas to retain its competitive position; trade unions will want to secure the jobs of their members; central and local government will want to ensure income from business rates; everyone will want to see local communities can thrive and have a future. It would need overwhelming scientific evidence against fracking, strong legally watertight policies, to fly in the face of all this. After the election in May it will be a matter all political parties and environmentalists will have to face as well.
I was at the Prospex Oil and Gas Conference in London in December, organised by Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). At a talk, by Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), I asked why they do not expose the fact that the SNP is actually in favour of fracking in Scotland.
Many of the 200 heads in the room nodded knowingly, and after the presentation I spoke to many senior oil, OUOOG and DECC people who told me this is true: they and Ineos are in discussion with the SNP, but nobody wants to rock the boat until the election.
My problem with this is not only that it will delay a huge opportunity for Scotland to revitalise the petrochemicals industry, but the SNP is conning the voters, especially the greens whose Yes votes they hope to translate into a vote for a party that wants to join the UK Government in order to break the country up… and then introduce fracking.