I have never been prouder of our SNP Scottish Government than I was last Tuesday when the Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, made a statement to parliament on fracking. He was responding to a huge public consultation on the issue and he made it crystal clear that fracking would not be part of the energy mix in Scotland.
Not only was this the right decision but the manner in which the government arrived at its position was an exemplar in public policy making. Campaigners, including myself, have been trying to get a ban on fracking for years. But rather than rush into a decision the government has taken the best part of two years to research the evidence, and most importantly, ask the people what they wanted.
There were more than 60,000 responses to the consultation including thousands from Edinburgh. A remarkable 99 per cent were in favour of a ban.
They were right. The process of fracturing the rock underneath our towns and cities by pumping air and chemicals into them at tremendous pressures is fraught with problems. International evidence shows that sometimes this can contaminate the water table and poison the ground above. It can also cause subsidence and reduce property values.
Reports commissioned by the government and made available during the consultation looked not just at the science but the economic aspects. They found that whilst allowing a fracking industry to develop would create some jobs, it actually wasn’t that many. In comparison, a similar investment in renewable energy would create many, many more and without the attendant health and safety problems.
But the biggest arguments against fracking are not to do with the effects on local communities but the effects on our planet. We urgently need to accelerate the switch from reliance on fossil fuels to clean renewable energy.
25 years ago we believed that oil and gas would be running out about now. But that hasn’t happened. In fact, there’s still plenty of reserves beneath our seas and land. We have a different problem now. We know that we cannot afford to burn all the fossil fuels reserves we have. And besides many would argue they are more important as a feedstock for our chemical and plastics industries.
So in that context developing ever more elaborate means of extracting hydrocarbons from the bowels of the earth is simply daft.
This is a bold and important decision by our government – one which responds to the public’s concerns.
Inevitably though it has attracted critics. Some have argued that it’s not enough to announce a policy, the government must introduce a law. This is posturing on a grand scale and wouldn’t be out of place in Monty Pythons Life of Brian. Why on earth would you pass a law to outlaw something that you weren’t going to do anyway?
On the other hand the right wing supporters of the fracking industry have been sticking their oar in too. Last week’s Daily Mail accused the government of “Nimbyism” – that’s “Not In My Back Yard” for those unfamiliar with the acronym. Leaving aside the mindset that sees Scotland as anyone’s backyard, this is a myopic misreading of the situation.
Far from being parochial the fracking ban puts Scotland at the heart of a growing international movement against this technology.
Now that we have clear position in Scotland the SNP will be pressing the case at Westminster for the UK government to take a similar sensible position. Throughout many parts on England, including near some of the most beautiful National Parks, communities are up in arms at the advance of the frackers. We shall be standing with them to call a halt and demanding that a UK-wide review takes place. Who knows, maybe even the Daily Mail will support our campaign,
Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East