Fracking will be an issue at the election in May. You may not have heard of it. A year ago I hadn’t either, although I was familiar with the term as the ubiquitous swear-word from the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica.
But it’s not science fiction, it’s science fact. Fracking is designed to extract the last dregs of hydrocarbons from the bowels of the earth. And because most of east and south Edinburgh is built on coalfields we are right in the target zone.
Fracking, put simply, involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into underground rocks at very high pressure. The rock is hydraulically fractured – or fracked – and trapped gas is released.
There’s a similar idea called underground coal gasification (UGC). In essence, this involves setting fire to underground coal mines at high pressure to create gases that can then be pumped to the surface. This could happen just off the beach at Portobello. How safe does that sound?
A few Saturdays ago a packed meeting at Portobello Town Hall heard from a range of expert scientists about the potential dangers of fracking and UGC.
These are inherently dirty and dangerous technologies. There are a range of unanswered questions about the effects of toxic chemicals – both those used in the extraction process and those released by it.
There is every likelihood that the process could breach the water table releasing poisons into our water supply. The resultant geological disturbance could also cause earth tremors, underground collapse and subsidence in residential areas.
That’s why we should call a halt whilst these concerns are investigated. I’m pleased that the Scottish Government has done just that by announcing a moratorium on granting planning consents for unconventional gas extraction, including fracking.
There’s enough research here to keep the boffins busy for ages. But just suppose it was possible to reduce the dangers to communities and the environment – might fracking then be the answer to our energy needs?
In my view, the answer is a resounding no, for the simple reasons that we are still pursuing fuel that is finite and that involves burning carbon to crate carbon dioxide. So all the problems with global warming and climate change – which is literally threatening our survival as a species – remain unchecked.
The only sensible approach to dwindling fossil fuels is to switch to renewable energy. We know it works. Already clean energy is on target to meet most of our electricity needs in a few years’ time. Imagine what we could do if we doubled our efforts. The pursuit of fracking diverts time, money and effort from developing clean sustainable energy.
So, if elected, I will be pressing for an outright ban on fracking. This dangerous, dirty, expensive and carbon polluting technology has no place in a balanced energy policy.
Unfortunately, the way Edinburgh’s Labour MPs express concern but refuse to vote to halt fracking not only makes them look daft, it gives politics a bad name. But that’s a problem more generally too.
Labour’s support for the Tories’ austerity cuts and its refusal to switch massive sums from nukes to welfare makes the two main London parties look samey. If you really are fed up with David Cameron’s Tories and want a real alternative, there’s only one logical choice at this election.
Tommy Sheppard is the SNP candidate for Edinburgh East in the general election.