Keep Scotland frack-free

John Finnie with Friends of the Earth's Mr Frackhead.
John with Friends of the Earth’s Mr Frackhead.
If you haven’t heard of fracking yet, you will. Fracking – short for ‘hydraulic fracturing’ – is a process in which water and other chemicals are injected into shale rock or coal seams at very high pressure, causing the rock to fracture and, the frackers hope, release gas that can be burned as a fuel.

How exactly the rock will break, and where the chemicals released will go, is highly unpredictable. Fracking has been linked to localised earthquakes and dangerous pollution of the soil, water and air.

Even without using fracking, all drilling for shale gas and coalbed methane, particularly in densely-populated areas such as the central belt, raises grave concerns for public health. Most drilling involves introducing hazardous chemicals into the ground, and all drilling runs the risk of releasing dangerous chemicals that occur naturally in coal and shale.

Not only are these risks serious, they’re also unnecessary. Scotland already has access to far more oil and gas than we can safely burn if we hope to limit climate change – we don’t need to risk the health of our children in the search for more fossil fuels of ever-lower quality at ever-higher risk.

Scotland also has genuinely huge potential for renewable energy. With only 1% of the population of the European Union, we have 10% of the EU’s wave energy potential, and 25% of its tidal energy and offshore wind energy potential. If we direct our efforts into developing those resources instead, we can be a clean energy giant for generations to come.

We’re at a critical point for this national decision, so it’s been really encouraging that dozens of people have contacted me to express their opposition to unconventional gas.

The right to exploit oil and gas in the whole of the UK is controlled by the Westminster government. It’s them (through the Department for Energy and Climate Change) that issue licenses to drill. And it’s the Westminster parliament that is currently considering a new law that will allow fracking and other fossil fuel extraction under homes without the consent or even knowledge of the householder.

But there are things we can do in Scotland to fight back.

In the new Scottish Planning Policy, the Scottish Government have required that all applications for shale gas and coal bed methane extraction include a risk assessment, and that that should lead to buffer zones being included in the application. They’ve also required that should permission be granted for one type of drilling and the developer later wants to use hydraulic fracking at the site, they will need to apply for new planning permission.

This is a much more cautious attitude than the UK government, but the Scottish Government can and should do more. I have called on them to place a ban on unconventional fossil fuel extraction, supporting this motion by my colleague in the Independent/Green group at Holyrood, Alison Johnstone:

Motion S4M-09927: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 02/05/2014
Energy and Climate Change

That the Parliament notes the significant public opposition to new methods of fossil fuel extraction such as fracking and coal-bed methane; notes that energy companies already hold far more fossil fuel reserves than it is safe to burn; agrees with the UK Energy and Climate Change Committee and many others, such as the chairman of Cuadrilla and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that developing unconventional gas in the UK will likely have no effect on the cost of energy for households; opposes the UK Government’s extensive tax breaks for the industry and what it sees as a bribe to local authorities to approve development; supports communities in Falkirk, Stirling, Dumfries and Galloway and across the central belt who are campaigning against unconventional gas, and calls on the Scottish Government to implement a ban on unconventional fossil fuel extraction in Scotland in order to protect communities, safeguard local environments and focus investment on renewable energy, given the importance of meeting all targets under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, the third of which is due to be reported to the Parliament imminently.

Supported by: John Finnie
Current Status: Taken in the Chamber on 07/05/2014

This motion was the subject of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on 7 May this year – you can read the Official Report of that debate here.

If you have time, I’d urge you to write to your MP to ask them to oppose the proposals in the Infrastructure Bill that will allow developers to drill under homes and other without getting permission from, or even notifying, the householder, and allow them to leave chemicals under your property.

But if this law does pass at Westminster, it is likely that there will need to be what is called a Legislative Consent Motion in the Scottish Parliament. This is a vote to allow Westminster legislation on a subject that is normally devolved to Holyrood – in this case property law and access rights – to take effect in Scotland. These votes are usually just formalities, but I will oppose any motion that would remove your right to object to fracking or drilling under your home or other property.

If you haven’t already, you can write to your MSPs asking them to make the same pledge through the Friends of the Earth Scotland site.

And finally, because planning permission applications go to the local authority in the first instance, councils are also vital decision-makers in the fight to stop fracking. Along with over 48,000 others, I’ve signed the petition to every Scottish council, asking them to refuse planning permission for fracking. If you have the time, maybe you could add your name too?