Yesterday, Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Business, Energy and Innovation gave Holyrood an update on Unconventional Oil and Gas (fracking). The statement failed to provide anything new, simply underlining the SNP’s desire to delay taking a position on the issue as long possible.
Fracking has become a controversial subject in Scotland following the discovery that the Midland valley in the central belt might contain substantial amounts of shale gas, oil, and a coal bed methane. However, the Midland valley is also the most populated region in Scotland, which means that fracking in this area would be both complex and controversial.
Opponents argue that the process could cause significant damage to health and the environment, whilst supporters talk of the untapped economic potential of fracking to create jobs and lower energy prices.
This is not a new issue, but with the upcoming local election in May, the debate around fracking has intensified. In January 2015, the Scottish government announced a moratorium on fracking, and commissioned a series of independent research reports on the potential benefits and impacts.
Despite the publication of these reports, the SNP again delayed making a decision, instead opting to launch a four-month public consultation. They have been met with much criticism for the delay, which seems designed to conceal their position on fracking, avoiding controversy before May’s election.
Positions on fracking within the SNP membership is likely divided, as environmentalist concerns are weighed against economic benefits that could potentially bolster the case for independence. The clearest indication of the party’s position lies in their 2016 manifesto, which states that they will not support fracking unless it is proven beyond question that it poses no risk to health, communities, or the environment.
In the opposition parties, opinions on the matter continue to be greatly divided, with the Conservatives vocal in support of fracking, whilst Labour and other minor parties such as the Greens and Lib Dems are firmly opposed.
The Conservatives have officially stated their support for fracking, and have opposed the moratorium, from the offset, arguing that it would be a backwards step for both the manufacturing and the energy industry. They consider fracking as a solution for meeting Scotland’s energy needs, and as a source of job creation; particularly for those who are being made redundant in the North Sea oil industry.
The Labour party widely condemns the Conservatives’ views on fracking, and have been fierce opponents of fracking. They argue that fracking poses unknown environmental consequences and ensures that Scotland will not meet its goals of reducing climate change. In 2016, Labour MSP Claudia Beamish introduced a vote in Holyrood to ban fracking, which was successfully passed after the SNP abstained. Whilst the vote was non-binding, it sent a clear message that a large anti-fracking bloc existed in parliament.
When it comes to fracking, opposition parties in Holyrood are split. It might be politically savvy for the SNP to avoid taking a position before the Local Government elections, but ultimately they will have to make a final decision, likely in the latter half of this year. Favouring fracking would greatly anger the Greens, damaging relations between the two pro-independence parties. However, opposition will also come with a cost, allowing the Conservatives alone to capture pro-fracking voters.
By Kathryn Strachan, Guest Contributor