The Scottish Government has been accused of kicking its decision on fracking into the long grass as it published a series of reports outlining its economic benefits and health risks.
Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse indicate the Scottish Government would wait until the second half of next year before delivering its final verdict on the controversial method of extracting oil and gas.
The delay intensified speculation that ministers will eventually support a fracking ban as Mr Wheelhouse confirmed parliament will vote on the issue. Yesterday saw Mr Wheelhouse make a statement to parliament at the same time as six Scottish Government reports into the technique were published.
An analysis by KPMG looked at three economic scenarios. The most optimistic suggested that going ahead with fracking would result in £6.5 billion spent in Scotland 3,100 jobs supported when the industry was at its peak.
That would be boosted by an additional economic impact of £4.6bn.
A Health Protection Scotland assessment of the public health impact of fracking found “sufficient” evidence that cancer-causing dust crystalline silica occurred at levels which would pose a risk to fracking workers. Researchers said evidence showed hazards from fracking, including the release of toxic hydrocarbons, “occurred at levels that could pose a risk to the health of nearby residents”, but this evidence was “limited”. They found water-borne methane gas occurred at levels which “posed a potential explosive risk”.
The report added: “There was ‘inadequate’ evidence to suggest that other unconventional oil and gas-associated chemical hazards or nuisances such as noise, light or odours occurred at levels that could pose a risk to physical health.”
Another report warned that unregulated fracking would be “inconsistent” with emissions targets.
The Scottish Government admitted a final decision would not take place until towards the end of next year. A public consultation on whether permission for fracking should be granted will get under way early in 2017. Mr Wheelhouse said: “Once the consultation closes and the results have been independently analysed and published, we will make our recommendation on the future of unconventional oil and gas and allow Parliament to vote on it.”
Claudia Beamish, the Labour MSP behind a member’s bill to outlaw the practice, said: “SNP ministers had an opportunity to ban fracking, but now they look set to kick it into the long grass until well after the council elections next May. People in populated parts of central Scotland will rightly wonder why the Nationalists are dragging their heels on a decision.”
Tory energy spokesman Alexander Burnett said yesterday was a “missed opportunity” to embrace fracking.
“We have more dithering and delay and a failure to recognise an opportunity to boost the economy and create jobs at a time when the North Sea oil and gas industry is in decline,” he said.