Leader: Fracking decision must not be delayed indefinitely

When approval was given this week to the first fracking operation in England since a ban was lifted four years ago, one commentator in North Yorkshire said of the development: 'It's all about first mover advantage. Look at what happened in Scotland.'

Protestors outside County Hall, Northallerton, Yorkshire, as councillors approved an application to frack for shale gas. Picture: John Giles/PA

Paul Glover, chair of Petrophysics at the University of Leeds, was pointing to the discovery of North Sea oil, when Aberdeen was chosen ahead of Dundee as the base for the new industry.

However, he could just as easily have been suggesting that the continued moratorium over fracking north of the Border had seen Scotland’s loss become England’s gain.

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The news that Ineos is to move its resources south of the Border, while fracking in Scotland is in limbo, is only to be expected. Companies cannot just hang around waiting.

The potential that exists is not going to disappear during the moratorium, and if a decision was to be taken to permit fracking, it would not be difficult to redeploy resources.

The gamble for Scotland is the possibility that, should fracking be approved, some economic benefit will be lost if companies have established their UK bases elsewhere.

However, the moratorium is in place for good reason, and objections to this controversial process must be examined. It is right to carry out a full assessment of the pros and cons before making this strategic decision. The Scottish Government says it is taking a “cautious, evidence-led” approach, which sounds responsible, although the decision to ban GM crops was supposed to have followed similar analysis – which when queried, didn’t stand up to scrutiny.

The current moratorium should allow detailed research to be carried out, but this should not be an open-ended process. Yet we are told only that a decision is to be made “in due course”. The Scottish Government should be clear on a timescale which allows the required research to be conducted, thus allowing all parties to know where they stand. At the moment, it feels more like the issue has been simply kicked into the long grass.

Mind the doors

Standing at a bus stop and watching your service speed past without stopping, because the vehicle is already full, is not an unusual scenario. But waiting for a train which doesn’t stop, despite its carriages being virtually empty, takes frustration to a new level.

Such is the current situation on the West Highland Line, where passengers waiting at remote Corrour station cannot board the train if, as has been happening, there is no conductor aboard to open the doors.

There are many great challenges faced by mankind. War, famine, disease and climate change. Must we add to this list the seemingly insurmountable hurdle of empowering a train driver to open his train’s doors?