Fracking gets go-ahead as Holyrood rejects ban

Calls for a ban on fracking for unconventional gas in Scotland have been rejected by MSPs at Holyrood.

Anti-fracking protesters have been accused of peddling hysterical scare stories'. Picture: Getty
Anti-fracking protesters have been accused of peddling hysterical scare stories'. Picture: Getty

The controversial method of gas extraction has driven down energy prices in the US and energy bosses want to see it expanded here.

But environmental campaigners warn it is unsafe and the Greens lodged a motion at Holyrood yesterday calling for a ban.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said it would put communities at risk and make meeting Scotland’s climate targets even harder to achieve.

“Here in Scotland, we have the opportunity to act on the commitment and promises of leadership on climate change by simply saying no to a whole new set of fossil fuel problems and ruling unconventional gas out of bounds in Scotland,” she said.

She added: “A ban on unconventional gas in Scotland would focus our efforts on truly renewable resources, rather scraping the bottom of the fossil fuels barrel.”

Fracking involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock and release the gas trapped within it. Wells can be drilled horizontally, leading to exploration under land around a site.

The UK government has licensed areas of central and southern Scotland for new forms of gas production such as fracking and coal-bed methane, but the Scottish Government has effective control over any developments through the planning system.

A public inquiry is currently under way into proposals by Dart Energy to drill 22 wells in Airth, north of Falkirk.

The company’s plans to extract methane from the coal bed deep underground have been met with objections from
environmental campaigners and local residents.

But finance secretary John Swinney refused to endorse the calls for a ban. He said environmental watchdog the Scottish Environment Protection Agency published guidance on shale gas in 2012. The government has also introduced “buffer zones” between potential developments, indicating a willingness to listen to communities, Mr Swinney added.

An updated policy on this issue will come to parliament “in due course”, he said. Labour’s Iain Gray said there were growing concerns about future energy supply as conventional power stations are closing and the country’s two nuclear power stations, Hunterston and Torness, will not be replaced when they shut down.

He said: “We urgently need a hard-headed realistic, comprehensive plan about how we transition to a de-carbonised energy market while still protecting security of energy supplies.”

The country is in “no position to shut down another potential energy source”, especially without the scientific evidence for the reserves available.

Tory energy spokesman Murdo Fraser accused Ms Johnstone of “misrepresenting key aspects” of the debate.

He accused environmentalists of “whipping up opposition” to fracking and “going around the country peddling their pseudo-science and hysterical scare stories about earthquakes, exploding taps and all the rest”.

More people support shale gas extraction than oppose it, according to figures released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, he added.