Analysis by Heriot-Watt University has hit the headlines, warning that the so-called “opportunity” for fracking has been “over-hyped”. This adds weight to the case for a permanent ban on the practice.
Drilling into the ground beneath our communities and fracturing the rocks to enable gas to escape is something Scottish Greens have fought since it was first proposed. Opening up an extra source of fossil fuel makes no sense if we’re serious about reducing climate change emissions and limiting the damage that will be caused by rising global temperatures.
Swathes of the Central Belt, including the Lothians, are eagerly eyed by drilling firms who have hyped up their prospects. What Professor John Underhill, Heriot-Watt’s Chief Scientist, points out is that in locations where there are large potential deposits of gas, the ancient buckling of different layers of rock means there is no single reservoir of gas to tap into. Instead, shale deposits are broken and scattered, basically making the process economically unviable.
As Prof Underhill says: “It would be extremely unwise to rely on shale gas only to discover that we’re 55 million years too late.”
I’ve always said fracking makes no financial sense; indeed, Westminster’s Energy and Climate Change Select Committee inquiry in 2011 concluded that it was unlikely to be a “game-changer”. It also clearly poses a risk to people’s health and the local environment.
When I was first elected as an MSP, in 2011, I put down a parliamentary motion calling for a moratorium on such drilling. Companies had been sinking exploratory wells in a few places in Scotland but most people who lived nearby didn’t know what was happening. Many were shocked when they found out.
Greens have stood with threatened communities from the outset. My MP colleague Caroline Lucas was famously arrested for protesting at Cuadrilla’s fracking site in West Sussex. In 2014 I proposed a 2km “buffer zone” between homes and any drilling, which would have effectively ended the threat in Scotland because all of the potential sites are in densely populated areas. But the vote on Holyrood’s Economy Committee was tied and the Conservative convener knocked it back. Also in 2014 I brought a full debate in the Holyrood chamber, pressing the case for a ban. All other parties voted against it. But since then we’ve seen Labour and the Lib Dems shift their position, undoubtedly in response to the growing public opposition.
The challenge now is for the Scottish Government to come off the fence, do away with their vague moratorium and create an outright ban, so we can lift the threat hanging over our communities, and focus on creating stable jobs in energy efficiency and renewables. Under pressure from Greens, the Scottish Government have agreed to make a decision by the end of this year. Let’s make sure they make the right decision.
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian