Comment: SNP must make its mind up on fracking

Fracking remains a contentious issue with the public but the SNP must lead the way with rational discussion. Picture: TSPL
Fracking remains a contentious issue with the public but the SNP must lead the way with rational discussion. Picture: TSPL
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The SNP needs to make its mind up on fracking, and soon, says Stuart Paton

AT A time of rising concern about the short-term viability of the North Sea, and the impact on the longer term outlook for the industry, it is worth remembering Scotland is sitting on potentially large onshore gas and oil resources.

The scale of these resources across the Midland Valley is uncertain and will require major exploration before any development using hydraulic fracturing (or fracking). Development would provide a welcome boost to our fuel supply and employment and funding to local communities (under schemes proposed by, for example, Ineos).

Unfortunately, the Scottish Government’s support for active exploration of shale resources has been lukewarm at best. When John Swinney appeared on BBC’s Scotland 2015 last week, he struggled to present a logical case.

Why this equivocation? Is it a high-minded, principled argument that developing these resources would be incompatible with the SNP’s green credentials, including 100 per cent of electricity generation from renewable resources? Hardly, given their unqualified support for North Sea oil and gas. Is it to protect local people from the ravages of the energy industry? Clearly not, given the scale of windfarm construction across Scotland. Is it safety and environmental concerns? Well, this would go against experts in the field, such as Public Health England, and would contradict the SNP’s existing support for the similarly regulated offshore industry and other appropriately regulated development elsewhere.

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The prime objection seems to be based on a non-existent threat to people’s property from drilling horizontal wells thousands of feet underground. If the Scottish Government is fundamentally opposed to onshore shale development, it should clearly state its position and save companies time, effort and money to evaluate these opportunities. The government can then take the consequences of the lost opportunity, the impact on our oil and gas industry and wider impact on the industrial sector. Or it could use the existing rigorous planning regime and actively support companies which want to develop this valuable resource. Using spurious arguments to delay decisions is doing no-one any good.
• Stuart Paton, an adviser to the shale oil and gas industry, speaks at Is Scotland Ready for Fracking? 10 February: