Scotland’s choices on fracking

Last week Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference debated lifting the moratorium on planning and licensing for unconventional oil and gas extraction.

It was an erudite debate, and I think that it is fair to summarise the argument in favour of lifting the moratorium as follows:

Liberals believe in evidence-based policy making and the scientific method.
The moratorium was put in place to allow an independent expert scientific panel to examine how unconventional oil and gas extraction could work in Scotland.
Just such a panel published a report in July 2014.
The experts say “The technology exists to allow the safe extraction of such reserves, subject to robust regulation being in place” and “There could be minimal impact from unconventional hydrocarbons if they are used as a petrochemical feedstock.”
Therefore the moratorium has served its purpose and should now be lifted. To maintain it, in the face of scientific evidence, would be a cynical politically-motivated move.

However, it is worth remembering that the 2014 Independent Report was a large document and the two sentences quoted do not cover its complete findings. In fact the quote “There could be minimal impact from unconventional hydrocarbons if they are used as a petrochemical feedstock” is immediately preceded by “The impact of unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland on the Scottish Government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gases is not definitive,” and immediately followed by “…but lifecycle analysis of an unconventional hydrocarbon industry is required to inform the debate, and provide a clearer view on the impact of their development.”

In other words, the impact that a new method of fossil fuel extraction will have on greenhouse gas emissions is not clear at this point, and before a decision can be made, more work is required on examining how a fracking industry in Scotland might operate, and what part they would play in tackling climate change.

So, there we have it. If the debate on fracking was wholly about the health and safety aspects of extraction then it would seem that Scotland could clearly manage to put in place the robust regulation required to ensure that it happens safely; and a moratorium is not needed since the question has been answered. BUT, if we are also concerned about hitting our climate change targets and maintaining global temperatures within the margins of a catastrophic 2 degree rise then a lot more scientific evidence is required to show that further fossil fuel extraction can be good (or at least neutral) for Scotland. Without any such evidence, we are just hoping that unconventional gas “could” be a positive influence.

At the same conference where this issue was debated, Scottish Lib Dems also agreed to put an end to all open-cast coal mining across Scotland, and to reject any reduction in Air Passenger Duty taxation on aviation. Both were done for good, solid environmental reasons to help reduce the carbon footprint of the nation, and it would make sense if our approach to unconventional oil and gas from now on took the same approach.

* Charles Dundas is a member of Scottish Green Liberal Democrats and lives in Edinburgh

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25 Comments

  • Whether the LibDems did right or wrong in voting the way they did I don’t know, but it was plainly daft to vote the way they did with the Scottish elections coming up. The Scottish Greens will really make a big deal about this and it could cost the LibDems a fair few votes. If the Greens do well then the LibDems could be wiped out, not a smart move by the party.

  • Jenny barnes 2nd Mar '16 - 11:23am

    80% of already identified fossil fuel has to stay in the ground to achieve our climate change objectives. It makes no sense to look for more, especially expensive sources like fracking. Long term, it’S clearly unsafe, even if ther were no immediate h&s impacts

  • Oh, dear, what a mess.

    Who was on this panel and where can one get a copy of its report ? Why has it remained unpublished and not discussed for two years ? It must be made available to all party members.

    The main post today contains two contradictory statements :

    ……..”Therefore the moratorium has served its purpose and should now be lifted. To maintain it, in the face of scientific evidence, would be a cynical politically-motivated move”…….. And then we have …….

    “In other words, the impact that a new method of fossil fuel extraction will have on greenhouse gas emissions IS NOT CLEAR at this point, and before a decision can be made, MORE WORK IS REQUIRED on examining how a fracking industry in Scotland might operate, and what part they would play in tackling climate change”.

    For many of us this is a deal breaker and will determine our future vote and support for the party. All Charles Dundas’s post has done is to spread even more confusion.

    @ malc above is quite right. John Barrett said the same thing yesterday.

    The Scottish Greens will be delighted. Patrick Harvie has stated :

    “Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie said: “Just days ago Willie Rennie told an audience in Glasgow that his party would try to ban fracking even though they agreed to back fracking at their conference three years ago; now he’ll have to campaign for the moratorium to be lifted.”

    The only way forward now is for Willie to make a strong rebuttal of the motion. If not, one must conclude the party has a death wish and there will be a clean sweep on the three existing list seats.

  • I think this is the report being referred to:

    http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2014/07/1758

  • John Mitchell 2nd Mar '16 - 2:47pm

    This was one of the most puzzling decisions of all (although not the only one) at conference as others have said.

    I do believe that a environmentalist stance should be fundamental to liberal values and indeed protecting the climate as a whole. I believe Willie Rennie stated at the outset of the Scottish election campaign that he wants a ‘bright, green and liberal Scotland’. Obviously, the green credentials take a hit as a result of this.

    Admittedly it did become abundantly clear during the UK coalition government of 2010-2015 that the environment was not really a priority or indeed a top issue for the party. Yes, the Lib Dems have been big on supporting subsidies and green tech, but in many areas the party is falling short.

    I would personally oppose fracking in all circumstances on safety grounds and the impact on the local environment. As Jenny Barnes says, realistically if we’re to meet climate targets the fossil fuels have to stay in the ground.

    Jim Murphy came forward with one of the better proposals on fracking and suggested letting communities decide in referendums. Whether Scottish Labour will adopt that proposal in their manifesto is anyone’s guess. The only party that’s steadfastly opposed are the Greens and as others have said they will probably pick up some votes as a result.

  • I suggest colleagues follow the links below to get another point of view.

    Fracking Threat to the UK | Frack Off
    frack-off.org.uk/fracking-hell/

    Fracking hell: what it’s really like to live next to a shale gas well
    http://www.theguardian.com/…/fracking-hell-live-next-shale-gas-well-texas-us

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Mar '16 - 5:24pm

    If you ask the wrong question or only ask a quarter of the question you are likely to get a wrong answer.

    Tony Greaves

  • @ Tony Greaves – that’s a bit Delphic, Tony. Care to expand on the M65 corridor ?

  • I see the motion opposing fracking at the York Conference applies to England only.

    Having different policies in England and Scotland will make the party a laughing stock.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Mar '16 - 9:37pm

    It’s Federalism, David.

    We are opposing fracking in the M65 Corridor.

  • It’s Federalism

    Then “we” needs to be clarified.

    Personally, I think the LibDems are being stupid in having differing policies across the UK. It smacks of opportunism, just like the much chewed over 2015 general election campaign..

  • Mark Blackburn 3rd Mar '16 - 7:53am

    ‘Evidence-based’ is becoming a tired old horse isn’t it? I’ll take a selective piece of so-called evidence and flog it to death, and use epithets like ‘naive’ and ’emotional’ to harangue anyone who dares to disagree with me.

  • Judith Littlemore 3rd Mar '16 - 8:36am

    I see two fundamental threets to our country and citizens TTIP to democracy and independence from corporate hegemony and fracking to our health, our descendants’ health, our beautiful country and the planet.
    Why should I stay with this party now?

  • Can someone post a link to the actual resolution, please?

  • Well said, Jean. I completely agree with you – and with Judith Littlemore. who raises some very important issues.

    I’ve been in direct touch with Willie Rennie on the matter and I know he’s trying to sort it. “Watch this space”.

  • Peter Watson 3rd Mar '16 - 1:55pm

    Just for clarification, what is Lib Dem policy on fracking?

  • Simon McGrath 3rd Mar '16 - 2:57pm

    @peter -in favour – clean, safe, brings in taxes and jobs. Whats not to like ?

  • Peter Watson 3rd Mar '16 - 3:19pm

    @Simon McGrath “-in favour – clean, safe, brings in taxes and jobs. Whats not to like ?”
    But didn’t Tim Farron say Lib Dems would oppose it if he became leader?

  • @ Simon McGrath There should be a trial run in Merton – after a referendum of local residents. What’s not to like about that ?

  • David Garlick 3rd Mar '16 - 5:29pm

    “Oh dear” has been said earlier but it was my initial response too. We need to on track for a Zero carbon UK and this will not do it.
    Science is a wonderful thing if used properly. Once you start to limit the evidence to only part of a topic you tend to invalidate the conclusions that it is possible to draw from it!
    Moving from one fossil fuel to another (coal to Gas) must be good must it not…
    It will provide cheaper energy and some energy security as it will be produced in the UK. So business will be able to compete on price in the world market place and make profits, workers will have jobs and tax will continue to flow in to the Treasury. ‘Our George will be happy’.
    On the other hand if you swap one polluting fuel for a lesser polluting fuel the planet continues to suffer, if only slightly less. There will be little contribution to the UK’s Climate Change Targets, (which we are already on course to begin to miss in years to come) and the price of Green Energy will continue to struggle to be competitive and become our fuel of choice. We will send a ‘don’t do as we do, do as we say’ message to the rest of the world where our green credentials have nosed dived under this Tory Gov’t and is already low. Politically we need to make up our minds about our climate change future vision and act accordingly. Are we to be leaders or followers as the climate continues to become more challenging?

  • Jenny Barnes 3rd Mar '16 - 7:59pm

    We need to be thinking about how to get to fully renewable energy systems, rather than thinking about how to get a little more of a resource that we can only use for a few more years. This https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/richard-heinberg/100-renewable-energy-what-we-can-do-in-10-years is about the challenge in the USA, but it’s more or less relevant to the UK too.

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