BY RUTH HAYHURST ON OCTOBER 24, 2017
Chamber Members of the Scottish Parliament have backed an indefinite moratorium on fracking and unconventional oil and gas.
A Conservative amendment against the proposal was defeated by 90 votes to 28, with one abstention.
Amendments by Scottish Labour, Greens and the Lib Dems attempting to strengthen the moratorium were passed comfortably. A bill to ban fracking, introduced by Labour’s Claudia Beamish, is now likely to be withdrawn.
The votes came at the end of a two and a half hour debate on the likely impact of fracking on Scotland’s economy, environment and communities.
“No social licence for fracking”
Opening the debate Energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse, told the Scottish parliament
“It is in the public interest to say to no to fracking”
He described the Scottish government’s proposed indefinite moratorium as “A clear and robust response to the evidence and the views expressed through our consultation.”
Calling on the parliament to support the Scottish Government’s stand he said:
“It is our responsibility as a government to make a decision we believe is in the best interests of the people of this country. We must be confident that the choices we make must not compromise health and safety or damage the environment in which we live.
“It is my view, and that of the Scottish government that there is no social licence for unconventional oil and gas to be taken forward at this time.”
More than 99% who took part in the Scottish Government’s consultation had opposed fracking and opposition was particularly strong in the 13 local authorities where fracking was most likely.
“The research we commissioned did not provide a strong enough basis from which to address those communities’ concerns.
“Creating employment and inclusive economic growth will always be key priorities for this government but such objectives cannot come at any cost.”
He said the ban was “a clear deployment of the precautionary principle”.
“In reviewing the research findings, I had particular concerns about the insufficiency of epidemiological evidence on health impacts highlighted by Health Protection Scotland. Health Protection Scotland also noted that a precautionary approach to unconventional oil and gas is warranted on the basis of the available evidence.”
The additional emissions from unconventional oil and gas would make meeting climate change targets more challenging, he said.
“To be compatible with climate change targets, new emissions from unconventional oil and gas production would need to be offset by emissions elsewhere in the Scottish economy with consequential costs for the sectors affected.”
On calls for a legal ban on fracking, he said:
“I am confident that the approach we have adopted is sufficiently robust to allow control of unconventional oil and gas development in line with our stated position.”
He said pursuit of what he called “unnecessary legislation” would tie up time in parliament.
He said he’d sought legal advice, including the Scottish Government’s position to not support new nuclear power stations or underground coal gasification.
The government would use planning policy to, in effect, achieve a ban, he said. There would be a written policy statement on the Government’s position, in preparation for a strategic environment assessment, which would begin shortly and conclude in summer 2018.
He said research had shown that a Scottish unconventional oil and gas industry would add 0.1% to annual gross domestic product and create 1,400 direct and indirect jobs. He said the low carbon industry in Scotland had created 58,000 jobs, while 100,000 were employed in offshore oil and gas.
“The researchers had also concluded that the volume of commercially-recoverable gas would not impact global gas prices so there would be no noticeable effect on energy costs for households.”
Mr Wheelhouse said the Scottish government recognised the contribution made to Scotland by INEOS, the UK’s largest shale gas company, which has chemical and refining businesses in the country. The employees at INEOS’s Grangemouth Refinery were important to the government, he said.
Fracking ban is “bad for Scotland, bad for jobs, bad for environment” – Murdo Fraser
Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservatives, described the ban as “ludicrous”.
Introducing an amendment opposing the government’s stand, he said:
“It is difficult to know which aspect is worse:
“Is it this government’s abandonment of evidence-led policy-making. Is it its contempt of science? Or is it the sheer hypocrisy of a party which in the past has been happy to champion Scotland’s hydrocarbon industry but now simply wants us to rely on imports of fracked gas from elsewhere in the world.”
He said an expert scientific panel had reported in July 2014 that fracking could be conducted safely in Scotland providing appropriate safeguards were put in place.
He quoted Professor Rebecca Lunn, of Strathclyde University, who said the proposed ban was “uninformed, ethically appalling and passing the buck”, and Professor Paul Younger, of Edinburgh University, who said the justifications for a moratorium were “all made up”.
Mr Fraser said:
“What we have is an SNP government dancing to the tune of the green party rather than listening to the experts and listening to the science.”
He accused Mr Wheelhouse of hypocrisy:
“While fracking in Scotland is to be banned by the SNP, we will continue to see fracked gas from elsewhere imported to heat our homes and power our industry.
“Fracking is fine in every other country in the world.
“We’ll frack in any jurisdiction in the world. Regardless of the environmental safeguards we’ll have their fracked gas but we won’t do it safely.”
He said INEOS were importing 40,000 barrels of shale gas every day. That imported fracked gas from Pennsylvania will have a higher carbon footprint than it would be if we were producing it here, he said, and we could set the environment safeguards.
“If the governments wants to be consistent, it will now ban shale gas imports, threatening a huge number of job losses.”
“Unwanted technology misted in uncertainty” – Claudia Beamish
Claudia Beamish, Scottish Labour’s environment minister, said there had been long and hard-fought battle to ban fracking. She said:
“It is an unwanted technology, misted in uncertainties and incompatible with Scotland’s future as a green and progressive nation.”
“Communities have rightly campaigned against acting as guinea pigs for the potential health risks, the air and water and ground pollution risks, the potential drop in house prices, the traffic, the disruption to local environment and biodiversity.
“Historically these communities have no reason to trust the fossil extraction fuel industry.
“They are still tackling the scars on landscape and other employment and environmental issues left from past industries”.
“The fact that the UK Tory government chooses to ignore these voices is in my view entirely shocking”.
She proposed an amendment that would require the policy to be included in the revision of the National Planning Framework and voted on by parliament. Quoting the former climate diplomat John Ashton, she said:
“You can be in favour of fixing the climate or you can be in favour of exploiting shale gas but you can’t be in favour of both at the same time.”
She criticised the Conservative amendment:
“The climate science is irrefutably, which is why this Tory amendment is so out of touch.”
She said she was concerned that the government’s position was not robust enough and her amendment would offer extra protection and parliamentary scrutiny that would prevent the indefinite ban being reversed on “a ministerial whim”.
She called for a resounding parliamentary vote against fracking so that it would never happen in Scotland.
“Turning point” – Mark Ruskell
Mark Ruskell, Scottish Green, described the debate as a “historic moment” and a “turning point”. He said:
“It marks the beginning of end of fossil fuel age.”
Mr Ruskell described fracking as “the toxic fag end of the fossil fuel era”.
Investing in fracked gas had the potential to displace not coal but renewables. Forms of extreme energy were a distraction, he said.
He said the government’s indefinite moratorium would only need the stroke of a minister’s pen to remove it. He wanted a ban included in the planning framework and called for oil and gas and licensing to be transferred immediately to Scotland.
“Fracking is a distraction” – Liam McArthur
The Scottish Lib Dem’s Liam McArthur said scientific evidence threw significant challenges if Scotland went “down the road of fracking” that the country would struggle to overcome.
“Opening a new carbon front is unwise, unwanted and unnecessary.
“Fracking is a distraction we can ill afford.”
Fracking had the potential for a significant impact on UK emissions that would potentially difficult to offset, he said.
Introducing an amendment, he said:
“A commitment to fracking would distract attention and divert investment in renewable and storage technology that we will need”.
These were areas where Scotland need to focus its efforts, he said.
Other speakersBill to ban “not necessary” – Angus MacDonald, SNP
“I believe a bill to ban fracking is not necessary, expedient, or likely to provide any practical benefits over the approach the Scottish government has already adopted.
“Taking the current approach of an indefinite moratorium is effective in halting fracking and UGC whilst avoiding any unnecessary and costly legal challenges”
“SNP blocks investment, employment and technology” – Dean Lockhart, Conservative
“As fracking industries are developed elsewhere in the UK and across the world, the SNP has decided to block the investment, the skilled employment, technology development and academic research which this industry would bring to Scotland.
“Rather than follow an evidence-based approach, rather than follow the clear advice of scientific experts, the SNP has chosen to hide behind a deeply flawed consultation process to justify its politically expedient and populist decision to ban fracking”.
“Brexit costs outweigh fracking benefits” – Christina McKelvie, SNP
“In my constituency, the economic impact of Brexit, which for South Lanarkshire council could be as much as £1.3 billion lost to the local economy, far outweighs any economic benefit from fracking.”
“We are putting our constituents first. We are putting our environment first. We are putting our community first. This is a huge win for us.”
“Contradiction of decision” – Jamie Green, Conservative
“The SNP seems happy for shale gas extracted elsewhere in the world and to be shipped to Scotland to meet our energy needs, but rules out the creation of an indigenous market. So I ask, if the government deems it an unsafe or risky form of energy creation, why are they so happy to benefit from the product of the process but be so appalled by its method of production, because therein lies the contradiction of their decision. “
“Victory for campaigners and communities” – Ben Macpherson, SNP
“This decision is a victory for campaigners and communities…It is a victory for the long-term public health, environmental sustainability and economic interests of Scotland. It is a victory based on evidence: a geological survey; a climate change assessment; a health impact assessment and, crucially, an economic impact assessment as well.”
“Public voice should be heard” – Jackie Baillie Lab
“I wholeheartedly agree with the proposition that this should be an evidence-based parliament. But it is not the only consideration for this parliament. It is for parliamentarians to weigh up all the evidence; the science, the economic impact and the view of the public – their voice should also be heard in this debate because they will be the ones who live with this in their communities”
“Miss out on the goldrush of the century” – Alexander Burnett, Conservative
“For years the SNP have dithered on fracking and now swathes of the central belt will miss out on what should have been the gold rush of this century.
“Community benefit of over £600 million could have been ploughed into these areas: new schools built, new playing fields created and community centres upgraded.
“Yet instead the SNP have turned their back on Scotland and put their own political agenda ahead of scientific evidence. And not only is it the central belt they are letting down, but thousands of skilled workers from the oil and gas industry, particularly in the North East, will have another door of opportunity slammed in their faces”.
VotesThe motion by Paul Wheelhouse was approved by 91 votes to 28 with no abstentions
The amendments by Claudia Beamish and Liam McArthur were approved by 90 votes to 28 with one abstention
The amendment by Mark Ruskell was approved by 90 votes to 27 with one abstention
The amendment by Murdo Fraser was defeated by 90 votes to 28 with one abstention