COMMUNITY campaigners have welcomed a Scottish Government decision to extend its fracking moratorium to cover unconventional gas extraction which involves setting fire to coal seams under the sea.
The move came just ahead of a major demonstration on Sunday against underground coal gasification (UCG) when protesters are due to link hands across the Forth Road Bridge.
Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said the halt on UCG plans – including sites under the Forth – would allow time for “full and careful consideration” of the potential impacts of the controversial process.
He also announced the government was commissioning wide-ranging research and consultation on unconventional oil and gas techniques.
Mr Ewing said: “We should never close our minds to the potential opportunities for Scotland from new energy technologies – but we must also ensure that community, environmental and health concerns are all fully taken account of.”
Campaigners argue UCG is an unproven technology, considered far riskier than fracking, and could cause severe environmental damage, including poisonous leaks, ground water contamination, underground fires and subsidence.
Julianna Muir, of campaign group Our Forth, said they warmly welcomed the government’s announcement.
She said: “We urge people all over Scotland to take heart from this development and add their voices to the call for a complete ban on all unconventional gas in Scotland by joining hands with other Scottish communities on Sunday at 2pm on the Forth Road Bridge.
“We are pleased to see the Scottish Government is listening to community concerns.
“It is vital that people the length and breadth of Scotland who don’t want to see the central belt wrecked by the fossil fuel industry make their voice count in the public consultation.”
Two private companies – Cluff Natural Resources and Five Quarter – have five UCG licences from the UK government between them for different areas of the Forth, including one off Portobello and Musselburgh.
Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said: “This is a major U-turn from the SNP, and one that Scottish Labour welcomes. However the public don’t get to have their say for over a year and Fergus Ewing still can’t quite shake the impression that he is a man trying to buy time on unconventional gas.”
She said under Labour plans no unconventional gas extraction would take place in Scotland without the local community affected giving its approval in a referendum.
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “There is overwhelming public opinion in favour of cleaner forms of energy and a sufficient body of evidence why unconventional oil and gas are neither good for people nor the planet.”