Meeting date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 24 October 2017
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Motion Without Notice, British Sign Language (National Plan), Unconventional Oil and Gas, Business Motion, Decision Time, Helicopter Safety (North Sea)
- Time for Reflection
- Topical Question Time
- Motion Without Notice
- British Sign Language (National Plan)
- Unconventional Oil and Gas
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
- Helicopter Safety (North Sea)
Unconventional Oil and Gas
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08341, in the name of Paul Wheelhouse, on unconventional oil and gas.15:06
On 3 October, I set out the conclusion of the Scottish Government’s extensive investigation into unconventional oil and gas. I made it clear that, following our assessment of the evidence, the Scottish Government does not support the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, and an effective ban using our devolved planning powers is now in place, pending the outcome of the required strategic environmental assessment. Today, I reaffirm that position and, honouring the commitment that I made on 8 November last year, I give Parliament an opportunity to endorse our carefully considered and robust position on unconventional oil and gas.
The Government has undertaken one of the most far-reaching investigations of any Government, anywhere, into unconventional oil and gas. It began in 2013, when my predecessor, Fergus Ewing, established an independent expert scientific panel to examine the evidence on unconventional oil and gas, including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and coal bed methane extraction. The panel reported its findings in July 2014.
After carefully considering those findings, we introduced a moratorium on onshore unconventional oil and gas in January 2015. That created space to explore the specific issues and evidential gaps identified by the expert panel, and to undertake a period of comprehensive public engagement and dialogue.
In early 2016, we commissioned a further suite of independent research reports to address the evidential gaps identified by the panel. The reports, covering health, economic and environmental matters, allowed us to consider further independent expert scientific advice, including from the British Geological Survey, Health Protection Scotland, KPMG and the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change.
The research reports were published in full on 8 November last year, allowing stakeholders and the people of Scotland almost three months to consider the evidence in advance of our public consultation. That consultation, “Talking ‘Fracking’”, was launched on 31 January this year. It took a number of innovative steps to encourage debate, dialogue and wide participation. The consultation findings were published in full on 3 October this year, in advance of my statement.
Members should be in no doubt that ours has been a considered programme of investigation that explored the issues in depth, and encouraged an informed and balanced dialogue across Scotland. In coming to a view on unconventional oil and gas, we carefully considered the findings of our extensive research alongside the results of our public consultation.
In reviewing the research findings, I had particular concerns about the insufficiency of epidemiological evidence on health impacts highlighted by Health Protection Scotland, which also noted that a precautionary approach to unconventional oil and gas is warranted on the basis of the available evidence. The position we have taken on unconventional oil and gas is a clear deployment of the precautionary principle.
The UK Committee on Climate Change report set out that the additional emissions generated by unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland would make meeting our existing climate change targets more challenging. The committee forecast that greenhouse gas emissions from an industry in 2035 could range from 0.4 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent to 2.6 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent under central and high production scenarios, depending on the scale of the industry, and the extent of regulation.
Will the minister take an intervention?
I will make some progress and bring in Mr Findlay later.
I remind members that Scotland’s statutory annual climate change target for 2032 is 26.4 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. Indeed, as the committee set out in its report, in order to be compatible with Scotland’s climate change targets, new emissions from unconventional oil and gas production would need to be offset through reductions in emissions elsewhere in the Scottish economy, with consequential costs for the sectors affected.
I will bring in Mr Findlay now, if I may.
Given that, in the minister’s words, there is now an effective ban and that there is no longer any issue of commercial sensitivity, will he now release all correspondence between the Scottish Government and Ineos regarding the discussions around fracking?
What to say, Presiding Officer? It is little worth taking that point, but Mr Findlay can continue to press for information if he wishes. I want to get on with my speech.
Our consultation embodied our commitment to enable local communities to participate in decisions that matter to them. The overwhelming majority of respondents were opposed to the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland. Although it was not a referendum, approximately 99 per cent of responses were opposed to unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland, and fewer than 1 per cent of responses were in favour.
It is our responsibility as a Government to make a decision that we believe is in the best interests of the people of this country. We must be confident that the choices we make will not compromise health and safety or damage the environment in which we live. Having considered the matter in detail, 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, noting strong opposition in the 13 local authority areas most likely to be impacted by fracking. The research that we commissioned did not provide a strong enough basis from which to address those communities’ concerns.
I have noted calls that have been made by some groups—
Does the minister not accept that the consequence of his ban will be that Scotland will simply import fracked gas from other countries? Can he tell us today whether there are any other countries that he would rule out taking fracked gas imports from?
As Mr Fraser knows, I am the minister for energy in Scotland; I do not have any role in terms of impacting on energy policies in other countries. It is a commercial matter for Ineos—[Interruption.] We have been clear throughout this process that it is a commercial matter for Ineos.
Our consultation embodied our commitment to enable local communities to participate in decisions that matter to them. The overwhelming majority of respondents were opposed to the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland. Although not a referendum, as I said, approximately 99 per cent of the responses were opposed.
I have noted calls that have been made by some groups for new legislation to ban fracking. The view appears predicated on the opinion that the position we have adopted on unconventional oil and gas is not robust enough. I am confident that our approach is sufficiently robust to allow control of unconventional oil and gas development in line with our stated position. The pursuit of unnecessary legislation would tie up this Parliament’s time in the face of other significant issues such as Brexit.
In coming to our position, I sought legal advice and considered precedents, including our position on not supporting new nuclear power stations or underground coal gasification. The approach that we have adopted, using our fully devolved planning powers, is to set out a robust and effective ban, using planning policy. Our approach ensures that decisions on onshore unconventional oil and gas developments will be made in line with planning policy and procedure, and within the framework of Scottish Government policy—policy that does not support unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland.
Will the minister take an intervention?
I must make some progress, but I will try to bring in Mr Wightman later.
On 3 October, I wrote to Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, setting out our position on the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, and seeking his assurance that licensing powers will be transferred to this Parliament as soon as possible and that no power grab by the UK Government will take place. When those powers are finally fully devolved, we will discharge them in line with our position on unconventional oil and gas.
After this debate, we will issue a written policy statement on our position on unconventional oil and gas. That will support the preparation of a strategic environmental assessment, which I propose will commence shortly and conclude in summer 2018. We will then formally set out our finalised position, which will be reflected in future iterations of Scotland’s energy strategy.
Our decision has been welcomed by many across Scotland, particularly in those areas that would be most affected. Of course, on an issue that has stimulated such intense debate, there are some who do not support the position that we have reached. However, listening to the views put across by some, including those on the Conservative benches, people would think that we were talking about developments taking place miles away from any population. That is simply not the case, as fracking was proposed across areas of the densely populated central belt of Scotland.
Creating employment and inclusive economic growth will always be key priorities for this Government but such objectives cannot come at any cost. We will, of course, continue to work with industries to help to improve Scotland’s competitiveness and economic growth. We closely considered all the evidence, including the potential economic impact from an unconventional oil and gas industry.
Under a central production scenario, researchers at KPMG concluded that, on average, an unconventional oil and gas industry would add just 0.1 per cent annually to Scottish gross domestic product if fracking was given the go-ahead, and would generate up to 1,400 direct, indirect and induced jobs in Scotland at peak production. To put that in context, in 2015, 58,500 jobs were supported by the low-carbon and renewable energy sector in Scotland, generating turnover of £10.5 billion. The offshore oil and gas sector employs more than 100,000 people.
KPMG also concluded that the volume of natural gas likely to be commercially recoverable from unconventional oil and gas reserves in Scotland would not have an impact on global gas prices. Consequently, there would be no noticeable effect on energy costs for households. That view has also been expressed by Lord Browne, the former chairman of oil and gas operator Cuadrilla Resources.
The real risk to Scotland’s economy comes from a hard Brexit. [Interruption.]
I note that Mr Fraser laughs, but he might want to pay attention. The Fraser of Allander institute estimates that a hard Brexit threatens to cost our economy around £11 billion a year by 2030, and will result in 80,000 fewer jobs when compared with those in the remaining members of the EU single market and the customs union. Mr Fraser really should pay attention to that.
I fully understand that our decision has disappointed the companies that received licences from the UK Government, including Ineos, the operators of the Grangemouth petrochemical facility. On unconventional oil and gas extraction, we have formed a different view from theirs, but on their desire to see a long-term, sustainable future for both the chemicals and refinery businesses at Grangemouth we are agreed. We recognise the contribution to this country that is made by Ineos, and that the chemicals and refinery businesses are strategically significant assets for Scotland. We will continue to work with Ineos to understand its wider business needs and to improve its competitiveness.
Before I close, I will take Mr Wightman’s intervention, if I may.
I am very grateful to the minister. As I think he knows, I do not doubt the sincerity with which he speaks today on his intention to ban fracking. However, does he accept that the mechanism that he has chosen is an executive action that could be undone by any future Government, even if it were in a minority in this Parliament and even if the Parliament as a whole were to be against fracking?
I recognise Mr Wightman’s point, but it is within the scope of this Parliament to express a strong view here today in support of the Government’s position, and I make it clear that that view was supported by the people of Scotland in the consultation that we have undertaken. If I might read the runes, I say that there is only one party in this chamber that would even contemplate allowing fracking to proceed at this moment—and we can all work to prevent it from becoming the Government of Scotland.
Those whose livelihoods depend on employment at Grangemouth are important to us, and we will never lose sight of that in our efforts to support innovation and investment.
We have considered the scientific and economic evidence, we have engaged in the debate and we have listened to the views of people across Scotland—the Conservatives do not appear to want to do that. The motion that we have lodged today, which I ask Parliament to support, is a clear and robust response to the evidence and the views expressed through our consultation.
The Scottish Government has concluded that it is in the public interest to say no to fracking. The steps that we have taken have given immediate effect to that position. It is now time for all members in this chamber to set out their views.
That the Parliament agrees with the Scottish Government’s position of not supporting the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland; endorses the government’s decision to introduce an immediate and effective ban on onshore unconventional oil and gas developments using its devolved powers in line with the Scottish Ministers’ statutory responsibilities, and notes that this position will be subject to a strategic environmental assessment before being finalised.15:18
It is difficult to know which aspect of the Scottish National Party’s ludicrous ban on fracking in Scotland is worst. Is it the Government’s abandonment of evidence-led policy making, is it its contempt for science, or is it the sheer hypocrisy from a party that, in the past, has been happy to champion Scotland’s hydrocarbon industry, but now simply wants us to rely upon imports of fracked gas from elsewhere in the world, wherever that may be?
Let us start with the science, for we know exactly what the science on fracking tells us. We know that because the Scottish Government commissioned its own expert scientific panel to give an independent report, which was published in July 2014. That report was quite clear: fracking could be conducted safely in Scotland, provided that appropriate safeguards were put in place. That view is widely shared by scientists and by those in industry.
The leading geological expert Professor Rebecca Lunn, of the University of Strathclyde, has slammed the SNP’s position as
“uninformed ... ethically appalling ... passing the buck”.
Professor Paul Younger, Rankine chair of engineering at the University of Glasgow—someone who has been held up by the SNP in the past as “an energy engineering expert”, and a member of the Government’s expert scientific panel—has slammed the Government’s position, saying that its justifications for an indefinite moratorium were “all made up” and “completely feigned”. He said that he felt
“completely violated as a professional”
following the announcement of a moratorium.
Even the former leader of Greenpeace Stephen Tindale said that the Green movement needed to have an “urgent rethink” on energy sources and that it was time for Green campaigners to stop saying “Frack off” and to start saying “Frack on”.
We have a report that the Scottish Government commissioned from expert scientists that it has ignored and treated with contempt, and we have a body of scientific opinion that is very clear that fracking should proceed and can be done safely, which has also been ignored. We have an SNP Government that is dancing to the tune of the Green Party rather than listening to the experts and the science.
What is the position of the Scottish Tory party on the climate change science, which is irrefutable and which Mr Fraser has so far failed to mention?
The position on climate change is perfectly simple. If all that we do is import fracked gas from other jurisdictions, the ban will have no impact on reducing climate change emissions in this country. I would have thought that that was very clear.
That leads me on neatly to the issue of hypocrisy. Although fracking in Scotland is to be banned by the SNP, fracked gas will continue to be imported from elsewhere to heat our homes and power our industry. Today, 47 per cent of UK gas demand is met by imports. Centrica has estimated that by 2020 the UK will be importing 70 per cent of the gas that we need, and much of that will be fracked gas from elsewhere.
Leaving aside the fact that Scotland produces 63 per cent of the UK’s gas when it has 8.5 per cent of the population, will Murdo Fraser confirm my understanding, which is that imports and trade policy are reserved to the UK Government? Therefore, we could not stop imports of gas even if we wanted to, but that is a commercial matter for Ineos. Mr Fraser is simply misrepresenting the truth to the public.
The minister cannot get away from the hypocrisy of his stance, whereby he says that fracking is fine in every other country in the world. When I intervened on the minister earlier, I asked him to rule out fracking in any other country in the world, but he would not do it. We will take fracked gas from any jurisdiction in the world, regardless of the environmental safeguards in place, but we will not do fracking here safely.
That is why, every day, Ineos imports 40,000 barrels of shale gas. That is a very welcome development, but the imported fracked gas from Pennsylvania will have a higher carbon footprint than fracked gas that we produced here. If we produced it here, we could set the environmental safeguards rather than importing gas from anywhere in the world, regardless of the safeguards that exist there.
I do not often quote trade unionists in the chamber, but Gary Smith, the GMB’s Scottish secretary, denounced the Scottish Government’s decision as “dishonest and hypocritical” and added:
“Scotland is importing a huge amount of shale gas from Trump’s America. If the government wants to be consistent, it will now ban shale gas imports, threatening a huge number of job losses. The government has failed to explain where the 2 million households in Scotland using gas to heat their homes will get gas from in the future”.
Labour members, including Richard Leonard—I notice that he is not in the chamber—need to listen to what their trade union colleagues are telling them.
We have heard a lot from the Scottish Government about its consultation, in which 99 per cent of the responses were opposed to fracking. However, 86 per cent of the responses were campaign responses or responses from petitions that were whipped up by environmental groups. That led the minister to tell us in his statement on the matter earlier this month that there was “no social licence” to allow fracking to proceed, given the level of public opposition in the communities that were likely to be affected.
That is a breathtaking statement from a Government whose ministers have over the past decade ridden roughshod over local opinion in areas such as Perthshire, Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders, where there has been local opposition to industrial-scale wind turbine developments and where, despite local authorities rejecting planning applications, ministers have imposed them in the teeth of substantial local opposition. This SNP Government has two different standards: one for those who live in the central belt of Scotland and another for those who live in rural Scotland. I invite the minister to come with me to meet the people in Dunkeld who feel under siege from large-scale wind turbine developments in the area, who will tell him exactly what they think about his views on the need for “social licence” for energy developments. If that concept is now to form part of the Scottish Government’s policy, Mr Wheelhouse needs to apply it across the board, including to onshore wind as well as to fracking.
We know that the SNP’s stance on fracking is anti-science, that the SNP has rejected evidence-based policy making and that its stance is entirely hypocritical, as it simply means that we will import fracked gas from other parts of the world rather than fracking here and so will miss out on the economic benefits and jobs that could be provided. However, if SNP members do not want to listen to science, to the experts or to us, I suggest that they listen to those in their own party. They can start with their former deputy leader, Jim Sillars, who has said—[Interruption.] Oh, they are laughing now, but I well remember when they all thought that Jim Sillars was the bee’s knees, when he was their deputy leader.
Mr Fraser, you must come to a close.
Mr Sillars has told them that their party needs to think again on unconventional oil and gas extraction.
You must close, please.
If SNP members will not listen to us or to anybody else, they should listen to Jim Sillars. A fracking ban is bad for Scotland, bad for jobs and bad for the environment.
I move amendment S5M-08341.3, to leave out from “agrees” to end and insert:
“disagrees with the Scottish Government’s position of imposing a ban on the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland; believes that this is an ill-thought out decision, which completely disregards scientific evidence; notes that the ban is incongruent with the research in the Scottish Government’s paper, Independent Expert Scientific Panel - Report on Unconventional Oil And Gas, which was published in 2014; recognises the Scottish Government’s inconsistency on fracking due to the continuation of fracked shale gas imports from overseas, and regrets that the thousands of jobs that could have been created and the significant economic benefit and the research opportunities that fracking could have brought to Scotland, will all now be lost to the country as a result”.15:25
For many people across the chamber and the country, this has been a long and hard-fought battle. Unconventional oil and gas extraction, which is commonly referred to as fracking, is an unwanted technology that is misted in uncertainties and is incompatible with Scotland’s future as a green and progressive nation. There has been a solid mandate to deny fracking a place in Scotland for more than a year, since Scottish Labour’s amendment against fracking was supported by the Lib Dem and Green MSPs, which made a parliamentary majority. That was a significant moment in Labour’s non-stop pressure on the SNP to ban fracking in Scotland.
Since then, all public consultation on the issue has echoed that sentiment. No ifs, no buts—no fracking in Scotland. My bill proposal received 87 per cent support from public respondents—a figure that cannot be overlooked—and an astonishing 99 per cent of respondents to the Scottish Government’s “Talking ‘Fracking’: A Consultation on Unconventional Oil and Gas” were opposed to fracking. I give credit to the activists, non-governmental organisations, unions and others who responded to those consultations. Their tireless efforts and shouts were heard loud and clear. The Green Party has also pushed on the issue. The fact that the UK Tory Government continues to disregard those voices is utterly shocking.
Scottish Labour joined the fight for the sake of our climate, communities, jobs, health and environment. John Ashton, who is a respected climate change adviser to many, 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.”
This is a question of climate justice. The Paris agreement included agreement on efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, which is vital to the continued existence of low-lying coastal and island communities. The climate science is irrefutable, which is why the Tory amendment is so out of touch. Christiana Figueres, who was recently awarded the Shackleton medal for her role in the Paris agreement, said:
“We will move to a low-carbon world because nature will force us, or because policy will guide us. If we wait until nature forces us, the cost will be astronomical.”
I can understand the reasons for the SNP Government’s long, drawn-out process, but it has left everyone in the dark and has caused uncertainty. As Parliament prepares to scrutinise the proposed climate change bill, the climate change plan and the energy strategy, it is absolutely welcome that we will know that fracking is firmly out of the question. The long-term damage would far outweigh any short-term value that might be gained—a value that has been significantly overinflated by the industry.
The lack of a social licence—as the minister put it—for fracking is an important point. Communities have rightly campaigned against being made to act as guinea pigs on which to test the potential health risks, the air, water and ground pollution risks, the potential drop in house prices, the increased traffic, and the disruption to local environments and biodiversity. Historically, those communities have no reason to trust the fossil fuel extraction industry. They are still tackling the scarred landscape and other employment and environmental problems that have been left by the opencast mining industry. Labour has been an unrelenting voice against fracking for well over a year. We have spoken in defence of our environment and communities, and the pressure of my proposed bill has in many ways helped to deliver action from the Scottish Government.
My concern is that the Scottish Government’s position is not robust enough—given that it could be reversed with ease by a future minister or Government. Labour’s amendment offers a layer of protection and a level of parliamentary scrutiny with which I am comfortable. Not only will there be a public consultation in the next review of the national planning framework, but the framework will be the subject of a parliamentary vote. That is fundamental, because it will prevent the changing on a ministerial whim of the ministerial direction for an indefinite moratorium. If the Labour amendment is supported, the added layer of protection will mean that I will not progress my bill to ban fracking.
We will also support the Green amendment, which will add clarity to the licensing arrangements.
The second part of our amendment focuses on positive alternatives to fracking. It is vital that renewable energy be robustly supported, and that there be more support for inclusive patterns of ownership in the energy sector. In our 2016 manifesto, Scottish Labour stressed:
“We believe in a ‘civic energy’ future—a future that grows local schemes to produce green energy, and heat for local use.”
In my region, I am supporting the hilltop communities of Wanlockhead and Leadhills in their quest for a sustainable future. The Wanlockhead Community Trust stresses that it wants a future that is not dependent on community benefit handouts from large corporations and estates.
There are also many municipal models of ownership. In Nottingham, Robin Hood Energy enables a city-wide vision to be brought to life. Public ownership of renewable energy is supported by Scottish Labour, as it is by the Scottish Government. It would be helpful if the minister would give more detail on that in his closing remarks.
Such models, coupled with an inclusive Scottish Investment Bank, will drive a renewable energy future that belongs to everyone. The Lib Dems’ amendment is positive in that respect, so we will support it.
To give certainty to our communities and support to our renewables industry, Scottish Labour will, I hope, join the SNP, Greens and Lib Dems in order to ensure a resounding parliamentary majority vote against fracking, which will then never happen in Scotland.
I move amendment S5M-08341.1, to insert at end:
“; agrees that the finalised energy policy on this should be reflected within the next iteration of the National Planning Framework, which is subject to consideration by Parliament prior to its adoption; supports the robust further development of renewables, and commits to actively exploring and supporting public, municipal co-operative and community models of ownership in this sector”.15:31
It gives me great pleasure to speak in Parliament today in support of the Scottish Government’s motion and to move an amendment that will make the ban on fracking legally watertight.
Greens have opposed fracking from the start, so we welcome the consensus that has grown between progressive parties in Parliament over the years. Today is an historic moment: it is a turning point in our story. Since the industrial revolution, we have fuelled our progress on fossils that were laid down millions of years ago, before humans even existed, but today we mark the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age and welcome the next chapter in our story, in which humankind will thrive within the ecological limits of our planet.
If we are to shield ourselves from runaway climate change, we must leave four fifths of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Of course, fracking goes beyond even the known reserves by exploiting fossil fuels that are not yet on the carbon balance sheet. Therefore, to frack would not merely put the brake on climate progress—it would stick us in reverse. Fracking is the toxic fag-end of the fossil fuel age.
The main course of coal was devoured decades ago, and the frackers want to return to blighted communities and to lick the plate over and over again. Unlike the United States, we have shut down our coal electricity generation, so investing in fracked gas has the potential to displace not coal, but renewables. We certainly do not need to import energy policies from Donald Trump—policies that are blown in on the hot air of Murdo Fraser and Jim Sillars.
The UK Climate Change Committee judged that widespread fracking would be incompatible with our climate targets. It is for that reason that, in our amendment, we underline the need for the blank section on fracking in the energy strategy to be filled with a fracking ban.
Such forms of extreme energy are a distraction from the vision and investment that are needed if we are to transform our energy system into one that is infinitely renewable, decentralised, democratised and smart. Our biggest economic opportunities in energy lie in building on the offshore oil and gas expertise of the past in order to commercialise the offshore renewable technologies of today and tomorrow.
The risks that fracking technologies pose to the climate and to communities far outweigh the economic benefits that such technologies could ever deliver. They are just not worth it. Professor John Underhill, Heriot-Watt University’s chief scientist, described the opportunity for extracting shale gas as “overhyped”, due to the physical reality of the complexities of our geology.
The communities on the front line in areas that have already been licensed for unconventional gas know what the impacts would be. In 2012, a coal-bed methane planning application was submitted for a couple of dozen wells between Stirling and Falkirk and for processing infrastructure to exploit vast licensed areas. However, in public meetings, the developer came clean on the potential for over 600 wells locally, which would sterilise areas that were needed for new housing and would bring noise, air and water pollution risks and landscape impacts. It was clear back then that the planning system was failing, with strategic unconventional gas developments being assessed against old planning policies for gravel pits.
It was right that the Scottish Government brought in a temporary moratorium on decisions, through a letter to planning authorities. However, what has now turned into an indefinite moratorium would require only the stroke of a future minister’s pen to undo it, so it is time to put in place a watertight ban that has a firm basis in planning law. Putting the ban in the national planning framework would ensure that, if there is a change of Government, the democratic will of Parliament would remain as an effective backstop. It would put the ban on the same footing as the ban on new nuclear power stations, provide direction on a national strategic issue and extend the ban beyond the life of the current Parliament, while giving guidance to local authorities for the next 15 to 20 years. For that reason, I welcome that the Scottish Government has accepted our argument to embed the fracking ban in the national planning framework when it comes up for review next year.
On licensing, the Scottish Parliament needs to have powers over onshore oil and gas licensing to be devolved to it, as agreed under the Scotland Act 2016. Leaving arguments over Brexit and the return of powers on wider European oil and gas frameworks aside, the agreed powers that were promised to this Parliament are overdue: that commencement order needs to be signed immediately by UK ministers and we must unite as a Parliament to demand it. We expect, and demand, that when those powers arrive they are used in a way that is consistent with both the energy strategy and the national planning framework. There simply is no place in policy or on the ground for fracking in Scotland.
I pay tribute to all those who have written letters and scientific papers, who have run street stalls and public meetings, who have petitioned neighbours and grown networks of concerned communities across Scotland, Britain and the wider world. Those activists and communities have demanded the truth and have got it. I also pay tribute to politicians who have listened and acted, from councillors to MSPs including Alison Johnstone, Claudia Beamish and the minister. They have all shown leadership within their parties and movements, and across the country. This is our moment to ban fracking.
I move amendment S5M-08341.4, to insert at end:
“; agrees that the Scottish Government’s position should be included in the Energy Strategy, in addition to its incorporation in the next National Planning Framework, and further agrees that licensing powers for onshore oil and gas should be transferred immediately to the Scottish Parliament from the UK Government and utilised in a way that is compatible with the Parliament’s view on unconventional oil and gas development”.
I call Liam McArthur to speak to and move amendment S5M-08341.2. You have up to six minutes, please, Mr McArthur.15:37
The Scottish Liberal Democrats welcome both the debate and the thrust of the Government’s approach to unconventional oil and gas extraction. As I said following the minister’s statement a fortnight or so ago, I believe that the approach represents the best way of implementing an effective and immediate ban on fracking in Scotland. That said, I hope that Parliament will also support the amendments that have been lodged by me, by Claudia Beamish and by Mark Ruskell, because I believe that they will all provide increased confidence about the longer-term robustness of the ban, and will set it in the wider context of the energy strategy that we need if we are to meet our climate and other objectives.
I take the opportunity to pay tribute to Claudia Beamish for her efforts on the issue. Mark Ruskell was right to draw attention to the wider consensus that has built up over time, but I am in no doubt that Claudia Beamish’s member’s bill, which I have supported from the outset, has played a key role in keeping the minister’s feet to the fire.
As for the Tory amendment, I simply do not accept Tory accusations that a ban on fracking is either anti-science or anti-jobs: it is neither. The scientific evidence throws down significant challenges were we to go down the route of fracking. They are challenges that we would struggle to overcome and which would come at a cost—as the minister said, not least in jobs in other areas.
I appreciate that SNP ministers have done themselves no favours in the past in taking decisions that appear to have no scientific underpinning—indeed, I have been critical of them for doing so. However, the same simply cannot be said in this instance. The steps that have been taken to weigh up the evidence, in relation to environmental, health, social and other potential impacts of fracking have been extensive, and Mr Wheelhouse even stands accused of having taken the scenic route in reaching his decision. Nevertheless, the decision has been arrived at following a process that few can argue has not demonstrably engaged experts, stakeholders and the wider public, with 99 per cent of the responses to the consultation supporting some form of ban on fracking in Scotland—which is an overwhelming figure.
I am, however, a little uncertain about what the consequences might be of the minister’s repeated references in his statement to fracking having no social licence. He may need to spell out exactly what is meant by that concept. As Murdo Fraser pointed out, the opponents of wind farms and, perhaps, other energy developments will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of what a social licence might mean. If the minister is to avoid making a rod for his own back and making delivery of the wider energy strategy more difficult as a consequence, explicit parameters for what a social licence is will be needed.
However, that should not detract from the case for banning fracking. On environmental grounds, we know that shale gas is a high-carbon energy source that emits large quantities of carbon dioxide and methane. The science of global warning, the maths of our emissions and our pledge to limit temperature increases to below 2 per cent must lead us to conclude that opening up a new carbon front is unwise, unwanted and unnecessary.
The UK Committee on Climate Change has argued:
“Should an onshore petroleum industry be established in the UK and grow quickly, this would have the potential for significant impact on UK emissions.”
It also found that
“accommodating additional emissions from shale gas production”
within our carbon targets
“would require significant and potentially difficult offsetting effort elsewhere.”
Even the UK’s own former chief scientist, Professor David MacKay, stated:
“If a country brings any additional fossil fuel reserve into production, then in the absence of strong climate policies ... it is likely that this production would increase cumulative emissions in the long run. This increase would work against global efforts on climate change.”
In addition, as my amendment makes clear, a commitment to fracking would almost inevitably distract attention and divert investment from development of the range of renewable energy and storage technologies that we will need in order to deliver a decarbonised, sustainable and secure energy system in the future. Along with energy efficiency and demand-reduction strategies, those are the areas in which we must seek to focus our efforts, harness our competitive advantage and secure the jobs and wealth creation that come with all that.
The Office for National Statistics has shown that last year low-carbon industries in Scotland generated £10.7 billion in turnover, supported 43,500 jobs directly and in the supply chain, and delivered more than £10 million of community benefit. Although the renewable electricity sector has made tremendous progress in recent years, much work still needs to be done to decarbonise our overall energy supply—in particular, in heating and transport. Given that fact, fracking is a distraction that we can ill afford.
Concerns have been raised about just how robust the proposed ban on fracking actually is. The current proposals use planning powers to ensure that applications for unconventional oil and gas exploration will be called in by ministers and rejected. As others do, Scottish Liberal Democrats want future licensing powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and used to reinforce the clear policy intention.
In the meantime, there is a strong argument for building the key planks of the energy strategy, including the ban on fracking, into the national planning framework, as is proposed in the Labour and Green amendments. Although no Government or Parliament can bind the hands of their successors, any future Government intent to move away from the current ban should face significant obstacles, including the need to secure support from Parliament. Inclusion of the policy in the planning framework would provide additional reassurance to those who have been expressing concern, and it would help to reinforce the effectiveness of the ban.
As an aside, I note that ministers may wish, while are reviewing the planning framework, to address a point that RSPB Scotland raises in its briefing. Given all that has been said today about meeting our climate change and environmental impact targets, it is passing strange that the Government’s planning policy still recognises
“the national benefit of indigenous coal ... production in maintaining a diverse energy mix”.
I understand the frustration that is felt by many about the time that it has taken to reach this point. For the communities that have been facing the prospect of fracking, the wait has been an anxious one. I hope that that uncertainty is coming to an end, and I look forward to Parliament reiterating its firm stance on fracking at decision time this evening.
I move amendment S5M-08341.2, to insert at end:
“; considers that the focus for the future must be on renewables, establishing sustainable energy supplies and creating green jobs, and believes that opening up a whole new front of carbon-based fuels would be a distraction and divert investment and research away from green technologies”.
We move to the open debate. I ask for speeches of up to five minutes, please.15:44
I am pleased to contribute to the debate, not least because fracking has been a contentious issue in my Falkirk East constituency since about 2012, when fracking in the Falkirk district first appeared on the radar. Coal-bed methane extraction had already started in the area—it came in under the radar, as planning permission was granted by Falkirk Council officers under delegated powers before the subject ever appeared on a council planning committee agenda.
However, I do not want to dwell on the specifics of the planning system in the Falkirk district—that could take a while—as my speaking time is short. For that reason, I will not take any interventions, either.
In his statement in the chamber just a few weeks ago, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy said:
“fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 3 October 2017; c 14.]
Many thousands of my constituents and campaigners across Scotland had hoped to hear that announcement for some time, and it came as a great relief to people in communities where the threat of fracking had been on their doorsteps or under their houses for some time. I am pleased that the measures have been put in place. I have always been sceptical of such practices and have long taken the view that, if there is any risk whatever of fracking causing environmental damage, it should not be allowed in Scotland.
It is understandable that frustration and emotions have run high throughout the debate on unconventional oil and gas, but the consultation process, the various ministerial statements along the way and today’s debate prove that the Government has taken the right and necessary steps to bring about the strict and effective ban that is needed to protect our environment. That said, as we can see from the amendments, there are still people who are pressing for more to be done.
There is very little in the Green, Labour and Lib Dem amendments that I can disagree with. Mark Ruskell and Claudia Beamish have called for the Government’s position to be incorporated in the next iteration of the national planning framework. That is imperative, and I am keen to hear in his summing-up whether the minister will ensure its inclusion in NPF4.
There are calls from environmental NGOs to go even further. Perhaps they should be careful what they wish for. A bill to ban fracking is not necessary, expedient or likely to provide any practical benefits over the approach that the Scottish Government has adopted. In addition, any legislation is open to legal challenge and can be overturned by future Parliaments. Taking the current approach of an indefinite moratorium is effective in halting fracking and underground coal gasification and avoiding any unnecessary and costly legal challenges.
As we have heard, there are those on the other side of the argument who claim that the approach is a step too far and goes against the economic gain that we could perhaps benefit from. That argument could be a tad academic if the expert John Underhill, who is Heriot-Watt University’s chief scientist and a professor of exploration geoscience, is correct in saying that large-scale onshore fracking would be unviable in the UK anyway and would have a negligible impact on energy prices.
Professor Underhill has based that argument on the fact that the substrata of the UK are compressed because of a squeeze millions of years ago between the Alps and the mid-Atlantic structure. The compression means that the substrata are undulating and wavy, which possibly makes effective drilling locations questionable. In addition, the UK lies not flat on the global surface but at an angle, which adds complications to the undulating structure. Professor Underhill has stated that that means that the UK’s rocks are harder to drill through than those in the US, which are comparatively simple to drill through. I urge Tory members to read his research, disappointing though it may be to them. It therefore seems that Ineos and other prospective investors may be 55 million years too late, at least in Scotland—in fact, this chamber debate may well be 55 million years too late.
Members will no doubt be aware that the Grangemouth refinery and petrochemical sites are situated in Falkirk East, which is my constituency, and that my constituents have more of a direct connection with those industries than most. For decades, communities there have sat cheek by jowl with industry. I am pleased that the Government has listened to those communities’ concerns as well as considering the needs of industry and has made the right decision, based on the evidence that has been presented to it.
However, it is also incumbent on the Government to support our industries and the jobs that are associated with them and to encourage further diversification into more modern, sustainable and renewable technologies. The sites in Grangemouth that are run by Ineos and Petroineos employ about 1,350 people, and that figure is expected to rise to about 1,650 people with the acquisition by Ineos of the Forties pipeline system. In addition, statistics from Scottish Enterprise and chemical sciences Scotland suggest that industry in Grangemouth supports more than 4,000 jobs in the Falkirk district directly and indirectly and many more across Scotland. I am confident that the Scottish Government will continue to support such industries in the coming years and decades.
As time is short, I will close. If the effective ban is approved by Parliament this evening, we will have certainty from today that there will be no fracking in Scotland. That is good news for my constituents, good news with regard to climate change and good news for Scotland.15:49
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests with regard to a smart energy company that is based in England.
Today’s debate is important for a number of reasons, including the fact that it gives us the opportunity to highlight the significant missed opportunity for the economy that the ban on fracking represents and the wider concerns that the ban on fracking gives rise to about how the Government makes policy and whether it is acting in the best interests of Scotland or in the narrow political interests of the SNP.
I will start with the economic case in support of fracking, which is clear and compelling. KPMG’s economic impact assessment has shown that up to £4.6 billion in additional gross value added output could be generated by developing a fracking industry in Scotland. That could create more than 3,000 highly skilled jobs and bring £4 billion in additional tax receipts to the Scottish economy, which could be spent on vital public services.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will not. I am sorry, but I have extremely limited time.
Communities across Scotland would benefit from those new jobs as well as from the millions of pounds of new community investment.
The minister said that the economic benefit of fracking would contribute, in his words, just 0.1 per cent to GDP each year. I remind him that Scotland’s economy registered negative growth in 2016 and that the latest figures show economic growth of 0.1 per cent, which is the same level of growth as fracking would contribute. Against that economic backdrop, the boost to the Scottish economy that could come from fracking should be welcomed by the SNP. Instead, however, as fracking industries are developed elsewhere in the UK and around the world, the SNP has decided to block the investment, the skilled employment, the technological development and the academic research that the industry would bring to Scotland.
The scientific and environmental analysis to support fracking is also clear. The Scottish Government’s expert scientific panel concluded that
“the technology exists to allow the safe extraction of reserves, subject to robust regulation”,
and public health bodies in other parts of the UK have concluded that
“the potential risks to public health associated with ... extraction ... are low if operations are properly run and regulated”.
Further, the SNP cannot credibly claim that the fracking ban is based on environmental concerns, given that Scotland continues to import 40,000 barrels of shale gas from the United States every day. As the Royal Society of Edinburgh has rightly pointed out,
“The global carbon footprint of the gas that Scotland imports is far higher than any onshore fracking in Scotland.”
If the Government really wanted to test the safety of fracking in an evidence-led process, it could have run a series of pilot studies to assess the safety and environmental impact of fracking. However, rather than follow an evidence-led approach and the clear advice of scientists and experts, the SNP has decided to hide behind a deeply flawed consultation process to justify its politically expedient and populist decision to ban fracking.
That is why the SNP’s ban on fracking gives rise to wider concerns about how the Government makes policy. Policy making to attract headlines, policies that lack analysis or supporting evidence and policy announcements to meet populist demands have become the Government’s hallmark. The policy decision to ban genetically modified crops was made without any scientific advice. The proposed citizens income is a policy that the SNP’s economic advisers have warned against, but it is being pursued for populist reasons. Similarly, the proposed nationalised energy company was announced to attract headlines at the SNP conference, but there was no analysis of how it will work.
The list of SNP policy failures is long, and the ban on fracking is just the latest example of the SNP making policy decisions on the basis of its own narrow political interests. It is time for the Government to start acting in the best interests of Scotland.
It looks as if I have finished within the time that is available, so it is left to me only to support the amendment in Murdo Fraser’s name.15:54
As we have heard, the technology around fracking is complicated. However, the message today is simple: virtually no one in Scotland wants fracking, especially when it could take place literally in someone’s backyard—that is the issue for my constituents. The Scottish Government has led the way on the development of renewable energy, but we have a Tory Government that has worked against renewables at every turn.
Let us look at the people who have been speaking out about the issue. Every charity and lobbying organisation with an interest in the environment is today breathing a tremendous sigh of relief. Murdo Fraser will frack under someone’s house and build a nuclear power station in their back garden—that is Tory environmental policy. However, South Lanarkshire against unconventional gas, WWF, Friends of the Earth, the frack off campaign, Unison Scotland and the Transition Network are genuinely delighted about the outcome and the courage that the Scottish Government has shown in deciding to prevent developers from destroying our beautiful landscapes and polluting our water table.
To get rid of the myth, there is no convincing economic case for fracking, despite what people who promote it claim. In my constituency, the economic impact of Brexit—for South Lanarkshire Council, that could be a loss of as much as £1.3 billion to the local economy—far outweighs any economic benefit from fracking under my constituents’ homes.
In Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, there is a strong movement led by South Lanarkshire against unconventional gas. I have had many representations from my constituents. The public certainly responded to the calls for views when the second-largest consultation ever to be run by the Scottish Government took place. A nation that is built on a social contract with its people is a nation that is reflective of its people. There was a total of 60,535 valid responses, and 99 per cent—yes, 99 per cent—were opposed to fracking.
People in South Lanarkshire and across Scotland had deep concerns about the development of fracking, which is why the Scottish Government put in place a moratorium while we gathered the evidence that was needed. Regardless of whether the minister took the scenic route, I would rather that he took the correct route, which is the one that he has taken. The judgment is now clear—without absolute confidence that fracking could not undermine public health or the achievement of our climate change targets, we could not and will not pursue it. More important, my constituents have made themselves clear: they said no to fracking.
I pay tribute to my constituents in the South Lanarkshire against unconventional gas group, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting on many occasions, including once in the Parliament a few months ago when I helped them to hand their completed consultation responses to the minister. That was public action done positively and they were here to take that opportunity. I pay tribute to their active and committed work to highlight the dangerous health risks and the dilution of our climate change goals that would all arise in an effort that would only line the pockets of commercial operators that have no need to think about the longer-term damage that they would cause. We have seen the same thing over and over again and we need to change the record. The payments that some fracking companies promised might never have materialised and certainly would not have covered the cost of damage even for a test pit because, if a test pit pollutes the water table, it is polluted and we cannot go back.
The biggest concern for my constituents was their health—especially the health of their children, who are developing. Global reports identify evidence of increased rates of cancers, respiratory conditions and cardiovascular disease, impacts on reproductive health and foetal development, impacts on the nervous system, skin problems, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, headaches, dizziness, eye and throat irritation and nosebleeds. It would give members a nosebleed just to read that. That is not what my constituents want and I back them 100 per cent.
I applaud the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament. If we as a unified group—with perhaps one exception—decide to ban fracking, we should be incredibly proud of that. We will be putting our constituents, environment and community first. That is a huge win for us and for the anti-fracking movement, which has been working for at least six years on the decision. The Scottish Government has taken the correct approach. It has listened to the evidence, to the experts, to our colleagues across the chamber and, more important, to the people, who have spoken.15:58
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. I am pleased for a number of reasons that the Scottish Government has reached the decision to extend the moratorium on the fracking of unconventional oil and gas. The debate over the past few years has been interesting and I have been pleased to work alongside campaigners who have cited environmental, health and climate change concerns to argue that we should not exploit that source of energy. I was not convinced in the past by the arguments advanced by people who favour fracking any more than I am convinced by them today.
Fracking first came to my attention when I led on environment issues for the Labour Party. I came to the issue willing to engage. The campaigns were in their infancy and were led at a national level by Friends of the Earth. Today’s briefing from the Royal Society of Edinburgh presents the different arguments on fracking. There are a lot of uncertainties about the practice. In the early stages, applications were going through local planning processes, where decisions are often delegated, and there was a recognised confusion and a lack of consistency about decisions being taken. At that point, the industry was at risk of developing with little scrutiny or accountability. It was interesting to look back at the Official Report of debates from that time, when the then minister was often evasive, non-committal and reluctant to take action. It has taken a lot of conviction from campaigners to get us to this point.
I accept that the Government wished to be thorough, but we have had years of uncertainty for communities and the industry. We have had a long period of indecision, but I am pleased that tonight we have the opportunity to be clear in our direction of travel and to provide a focus for what needs to be done to provide for our energy needs in a modern, forward-looking country.
Initially, I met environment organisations, local communities and the industry. I was always clear about the unacceptable risks to my region if the practice was to go ahead. It is impossible to compare the experiences internationally with those that are predicted in Scotland. Many argued that the low cost of gas in America because of exploitation of unconventional gas could be replicated here, but that ignored the predicted higher cost of extraction in Scotland, where our environmental standards are higher and the export market is different.
I also have concerns over population density in the targeted areas, which are largely former coalfield areas, where concerns are also raised about ground stability and risks to water quality. The economic benefits to local areas are often exaggerated as, after the initial investment in establishing the infrastructure, there are few employment opportunities. There is also the prospect of licences being issued and exploratory work beginning, along with the accompanying disruption for communities, only for that to result in little because of question marks over what is only a potential source of energy.
The evidence about the risks to the environment and health was always inconclusive and could not carry the confidence of communities. Those factors held great uncertainty for communities that have over the years carried the legacy of coal mining. Although that industry brought benefits, it left a poor health legacy in too many cases.
I was concerned about the potential for underground coal gasification; it was proposed for the Firth of Forth, which is a busy stretch of water where there are commercial operations as well as—increasingly—environmental protections. I urged the Government to include UCG in the initial moratorium and was pleased when it responded positively, and I hope that it will go on to strengthen that.
I welcomed the minister’s statement before the recess, but I thought that he could have been firmer in his reasoning, which would give greater confidence about the decision. He spoke about the lack of a
“social licence for unconventional oil and gas to be taken forward at this time”.—[Official Report, 3 October 2017; c 14.]
That reflects the significant numbers of responses that were received. There are two things to highlight about that. I agree with Liam McArthur’s concerns about the use of a social licence, and I also feel that the phrase “at this time” raises concerns. The minister will be aware of the continuing emails that ask for a future legislative solution.
The argument that the moratorium can be reversed is well made, and I believe that Labour’s amendment can provide greater security and certainty. The argument for opposing the exploitation of unconventional oil and gas can be strongly made on the basis of scientific evidence and, although the public consultation was important and valuable, the minister could have been stronger in setting out the environmental challenges that we face if we are to meet our long-term and interim climate targets. However, I also recognise the challenges in providing for Scotland’s energy needs. Reducing our overreliance on fossil fuels and investing more in renewables is crucial to our future for meeting our energy demands and our climate change targets, but that is not easy, as the demand for energy continues domestically and in our economy.
The considerable difficulties for our energy market as a result of Brexit should not be underestimated, and energy security and affordability will be key issues. I am glad that the exploitation of unconventional oil and gas will not play a part in tackling those challenges in Scotland. The challenges must still be met, but we can see opportunities to invest in our country’s future if we look towards renewables in a much firmer fashion.16:04
The Scottish Government’s four-month public consultation resulted in 60,535 responses—the second-largest response to a public consultation. Ninety-nine per cent of those responses were opposed to fracking, and fewer than 1 per cent were in favour.
That level of response is overwhelming and it is a clear indicator of support from the vast majority of people to move forward with a ban on fracking. It is impossible to argue that the public in Scotland wants anything to do with it.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a well stimulation technique, in which water, sand and chemicals—fracking fluid—are pumped underground at high pressure to create fissures and remove natural gas. Although it sounds simple on paper, the fracking process runs the risk of triggering hazards such as earthquakes and contaminating surface water. Fracking also produces waste that is difficult to dispose of and needs its own disposal site, which ruins even more land. Although the necessary large areas are more readily available and easier to accommodate in the vast regions of the US, for example, Scotland does not have endless quantities of land to spare. Even if it did, wells fail, accidents happen, and nearby towns’ water can easily be contaminated with poisonous toxins.
Will the member take an intervention?
I am sorry, but I have a limited amount of time.
Please sit down, Mr Beattie. You have not done anything wrong, but I want to say that there is time in hand if members want to take interventions. I am not directing you in any way, but I remind members that there is time in hand. Please continue, Mr Beattie.
In April 2011, the people of north-west England were shaken awake. The local people read in the papers the next day that there had in fact been an earthquake. It had occurred the same week that hydraulic fracturing had begun, about a mile and a half away. Those who experienced the earthquake responded with shock: there had never been any earthquakes in the region as far as anyone knew. It did not appear to be a natural occurrence. Ultimately it was connected with the fracturing occurring kilometres below the surface.
In 2015, a paper was published in Science magazine. Its purpose was to study whether it was possible to reduce the hazard of induced seismicity, or man-made earthquakes, created through hydraulic fracturing. At that time, human-induced earthquakes due to fracking were plaguing large areas in the United States, and scientists were examining whether by changing the variables they could control or stop them. The scientists were trying to control the consequence of fracking’s actions.
There are multitudes of cases describing the devastating effects that fracking has in communities. Is it not enough to learn from other countries’ mistakes? Must we bring to Scotland fracking and the potential problems that accompany it, simply to learn the same lesson? My answer is no. Rather than subjecting our constituents to the risks of poisonous water and avoidable earthquakes, we need to ban fracking.
As my constituents and colleagues well know, I believe fracking has no place in Scotland. If coal-bed methane extraction were to occur in my constituency, the beautiful landscape would be forever marred, and Midlothian North and Musselburgh would run the risk of contaminated water and ruined soil. Such effects would be detrimental to our communities and we cannot stand by and let them happen.
Meanwhile, the Tories claim that they are in favour of green and environmental initiatives, yet they are in favour of pumping chemicals into the earth. How can they argue that they want to protect the environment when they are in favour of fracking? Are they refusing to recognise the damage that fracking causes, or do they honestly believe that it will be a good long-term investment?
If they truly are confused and believe that fracking is a solid investment, I will shine some light on the matter. There is little point to fracking in general. What once might have seemed to be a promising opportunity has turned into a money pit, even for those in favour. When pro-frackers argue that it would be a waste not to tap into the energy resource beneath our feet, they are ignoring not only the negative ecological effects that fracking causes, but the fact that fracking in itself is a terrible investment. Three years after a well begins producing, almost all the resource has been collected. Fracking is not a sustainable resource. If a well does not continually expand, in three years 95 per cent of the natural gas will have been collected and the well will have been rendered useless.
According to London’s Evening Standard,
“Independent industry observers reckon that in 2012 and 2013, well before the price collapse”—
“companies in the US were spending around $42 billion ... a year to maintain production. The value of gas produced was reckoned to be $32 billion.”
Such a measurement shows that companies were losing $10 billion a year to perform hydraulic fracturing.
Contrary to belief, unconventional gas is already very expensive to produce. Companies need high energy prices to make a profit. Fracking wells drain quickly, which continually causes production prices to be high and therefore the cost of fracking to be high.
As of 20 October, the price of oil is $51.46 a barrel. That is far below the price that is required for fracking to make a profit, which is about $100 a barrel. With fracking, no one wins, not even those who are in favour of it.
Those statistics come with the assumption that there is natural gas to be found in general, but ignores the fact that not all wells perform. In 2015, the US company, Chevron, terminated its operations in Romania partly due to underwhelming results. According to the news site RT:
“Globally, Chevron’s 2014 failure rate stood at 30 percent ... Sixteen of the 53 wells the company drilled were found to have had no commercially viable quantities of oil or natural gas.”
If we allow fracking in Scotland, it will spread like a virus. The wells drain quickly and continually feed into other areas. Fracking means knowingly pumping toxic fluids into the ground and destroying what is left behind. We should and need to ban fracking without exception. I support the Scottish Government’s ban.16:10
I did not wake up this morning as a born-again fracking champion. Like the Government, I have heard many of the public concerns that have been aired throughout the prolonged but somewhat evidence–led approach to this controversial subject over the past few years.
To some, the very word fracking conjures up imagery that is often negative. Opinions from a wide range of educated sources were sought and duly given, and it was right and proper to do so. I approach today’s debate with the view that it is also right and proper to ensure that the Government takes decisions that are based on evidence and facts, not just opinion polls and email petitions.
I fear that the Scottish Government’s spin machine has decided that fracking is no longer the place for scientific opinion and I am not alone in that analysis. Dr Chris Masters, co-chairman of the Scottish Science Advisory Council and a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, expressed concern that that decision has diminished Scotland’s reputation as a world leader in science. On 13 October, he was quoted in The Times as saying:
“It seems, increasingly, the Scottish government is almost ignoring scientific evidence. We’ve moved from a situation where we talked about evidence-based policy, to a situation where we’re looking for policy-based evidence. [They] determine the policy first, then find the evidence to support it.”
How would Mr Greene respond to accusations that the Government in London proceeded with fracking in England without gathering the scientific evidence that we have or asking public opinion? It did neither.
I just said that I supported the Government’s approach to seeking the views of a wide range of people. The problem is that I have not heard any substantive evidence from the minister on why or how he made his decision.
The minister said:
“I am sure that an unconventional oil and gas industry would work to the highest environmental and health and safety standards”.—[Official Report, 3 October 2017; c 14.]
By that logic, does he now think that unconventional gas extraction would be performed safely or not? Does he not trust that the regulatory environment in our energy markets is robust enough to regulate the industry? It is still entirely unclear what specific scientific evidence the minister has used as a basis to make his decision. I am happy to give way if he is willing to clarify that.
There is not time for me to go through all of it, but I will cite one example. He is quite correct that we stressed that, in Scotland, a well-regulated industry could exist. However, even in the context of a well-regulated industry, KPMG indicated that there would be additional climate emissions that would be extremely difficult to mitigate for our annual statutory climate change targets. That is science and practical action, so we are not going forward with fracking.
The minister is using environmental targets as a way of explaining his scientific evidence. The environmental targets are one thing, but I am yet to hear specific examples of why the minister thinks that unconventional gas is safe or not. I am still waiting.
The minister said that there is no “social licence” for unconventional oil and gas. Is a social licence different from a scientific licence?
The minister completely failed to acknowledge that, in other countries, advances in technology combined with strong regulatory environments and trial-based approaches have made extraction safe and sustainable. It is puzzling that the Scottish Government holds such strong opposition to the practice when it is happy for 40,000 barrels of shale gas to be imported into Scotland every day.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will not.
The Scottish National Party seems happy for shale gas to be extracted elsewhere in the world and shipped to Scotland to meet our energy needs, but rules out any chance of the creation of an indigenous market. If the Government deems it to be an unsafe or risky form of energy creation, why is it so happy to benefit from the product of the process but so appalled by the method of production? Therein lies the contradiction in the decision.
As a result of the ban, Scotland will lose out on not only jobs, but the inward investment that we greatly need. England is set to receive £33 billion in shale gas investment over the next two decades—subsidy free. A blanket ban risks sending critical expertise in hydrocarbon extraction to England or overseas.
This all sounds very familiar. As someone who represents a community with a nuclear power station on its doorstep, I am fully aware of what happens when a Government takes a politically negative view of an energy industry. I respect the continued and lifelong ideological opposition that some have to its very existence but, over the decades, Hunterston has provided Scotland with a high volume of energy, a high number of high-quality jobs and high standards in safety. The Government’s antipathy to nuclear power and unconventional gas is ideological, nothing more.
As I have said, I am not arguing for a gung-ho, full-steam-ahead approach to unconventional gas extraction, but this decision is about more than fracking. It undermines the ability of communities to decide for themselves, which is something that I feel strongly about.
Will the member take an intervention?
The member is in his last minute.
The decision has been poorly presented to Parliament. As a result—call me a cynic—it seems to be nothing more than a political decision.16:16
Fracking is an issue that many of my constituents in Edinburgh Eastern have been adamantly opposed to for some time. Indeed, I highlighted my position against fracking during my election campaign.
Today, for those in Edinburgh Eastern, I am proud to vote in favour of the Scottish Government’s ban on fracking. I thank the our Forth campaign group for its continuing hard work on the issue. Some of its fractivists from my constituency are in the gallery today.
The public consultation on fracking proved that my constituency was not alone—only 1 per cent of the 60,000 respondents voiced their support for fracking in Scotland. It is no wonder why: the consequences for the environment and public health are nothing but dire.
The decision to ban fracking shows that the SNP Government prioritises the environment and has a vision for a different Scotland that has become a global leader on the environment and in the fight against climate change.
Scotland has already exceeded its target of producing 50 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2015. By 2030, the SNP aims for Scotland to have an entirely decarbonised electricity sector. Just earlier this month, on 2 October, Scotland’s wind power produced double the amount of electricity needed for the country’s total daily energy consumption.
Our proposals in this year’s programme for Government have earned praise from the United Nations head of environment.
To allow fracking would be incompatible with this Government’s climate leadership and, more important, it would be in direct violation of public opinion. As the minister has said,
“there is no social licence”
In direct contrast, around this time last year in England, the Tory UK Government intervened in Lancashire County Council’s fracking ban, overturned its decision and rode roughshod over local residents in favour of a shale company.
We have seen what a Conservative Government has done to disabled people, to homeless people, to struggling families and, now, to local communities. It seems that Tory policy is, as ever, to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Scotland should not be led under a narrow-minded growth-at-any-cost mentality. That way of thinking and that way of governing would see some fracking jobs created at the expense of the very air that we breathe and the water that we drink; it would see industry propped up in the short term, while damaging our environment for the long term.
Even when the threat to our planet is clear, even when the voice of the Scottish public is resolute, and even when the health hazards are spelled out in black and white, the Tories will still take the side of an industry that would inflict all that harm on the people and communities they are meant to represent.
The SNP is looking beyond the likes of fracking, which would inflict harm on Scotland’s environment and its people. Instead, we are opting for investment in renewable forms of energy. That clean power will provide electricity and heating, and the further investment will create jobs while protecting the environment.
Our critics suggest that we are turning our backs on jobs and on profits, but the evidence does not support that. The KPMG report concluded that fracking would bring 1,400 direct, indirect and induced jobs to Scotland at its peak, and £2 billion to perhaps £3 billion through to 2062. By contrast, Scotland’s natural environment is valued at more than £20 billion per year and it supports 60,000 direct jobs alone. To invest in one industry that has been proven to devastate a much more valuable industry by far is not a renaissance; it is madness.
In reality, the only ones in the chamber who have turned their backs on anyone are the Tories. They have turned their backs on the environment, on local communities and on the will of the Scottish people. If that was not enough, the UK Government could be attempting to re-reserve the European Union licensing regime, which should rightfully come to the Scottish Parliament. That cannot happen. The Scottish people have spoken and the Scottish Government has acted: there will be no fracking in Scotland.
All parties, except for the Tories, are in favour of the action, proving once again that the best interests of Scotland cannot be trusted to the Conservatives. The SNP’s record, today and in our past 10 years in government, proves the opposite. Today, we act in the best interests of Scots, of our climate, and of our future as a nation.16:22
Since the earliest days of the industrial revolution, the demand for energy has increased exponentially. Areas in my region have always been at the centre of Scotland’s energy production. We had coal production in Midlothian and West Lothian, and the world’s oil industry began in West Lothian at the shale oil works. For 10 years, we have had one of the country’s biggest wind farms at Blacklaw, which opened the floodgates to one of the greatest missed opportunities for renewables of our times.
For well over a century, some of the communities in my region have taken a disproportionate share of the impact of energy production that has often left a legacy of ill health, environmental degradation and pollution. It is those communities—more often than not the poorest communities—that are all too often subject to unwelcome planning applications and land use decisions. There have been developments such as opencast coal sites, landfill, waste processing, and the overconcentration of wind farms, not for some grand principle of providing cheap and clean renewable energy but, more often than not, for little more than the latest opportunity for financial speculation by multinationals or venture capitalists. Those renewable projects should have been locally and publicly owned and run, with the profits recycled into the host communities. Of course, those communities would be most affected by fracking.
I have opposed fracking from the outset, precisely for that reason. The fracking companies would be just the latest in a long line of speculators who come into the community promising riches, jobs and benefits only to leave a legacy of environmental damage, degraded countryside and little if any community benefit.
It might come as a surprise to some, but Ineos is not particularly well known for its philanthropic behaviour. It is known for holding the country to ransom by threatening to close down our biggest refinery, for using its muscle to shaft the workforce, and for using its private monopoly to try and undermine a legitimate and responsible trade union for the crime of protecting its members’ livelihoods.
Ineos has the most to gain by snapping up licences across the central belt and the north of England. Scottish Government ministers met the company on a dozen occasions in the run up to the original moratorium. Perhaps now we can have the details of those conversations released in the interests of transparency, but I will not hold my breath.
I have actively opposed fracking because I have looked in depth at what it has done to communities elsewhere—polluting the water table, affecting the land and the food chain and causing public health concerns. In the US, 100,000 fracking wells have been drilled since 2005, using 280 billion gallons of water, which becomes heavily polluted during the process. These are very serious concerns and there has been a significant impact on the water supply, on rivers, plant and animal life and ultimately on human health.
A whole host of further concerns have been raised about contaminated water, the illegal dumping of water, and waste water being given to livestock and entering the food chain, as well as aquifer contamination and air pollution.
I do not want to see a single community here affected by this; I also do not want to see another community in the US or anywhere else affected by it. Let us be clear—it is the political pressure that came about from both Claudia Beamish’s bill and huge public opposition that has forced the Government to act. We do not, however, have a ban—just a continued moratorium.
Prior to the announcement of that moratorium, we almost had radio silence from Government back benchers, with hardly one of them speaking out demanding a ban, but lo and behold, when the continued moratorium was announced, all of a sudden, those silent, compliant and dutiful back benchers have found their voices—[Interruption.]—and are telling the world that they have all been opposed to fracking all along.
Will the member take an intervention?
No, thank you. [Interruption.] If we are now all in favour of a ban—[Interruption]. On you go, Ms Martin—if we have time, I will take your intervention.
I am fairly sure that Neil Findlay does not watch the SNP party conference—I am right, am I not? However, if he was to look back, he would see how many times fracking has been mentioned there. A ban on fracking was overwhelmingly passed by acclamation at the SNP party conference.
How many times have we debated it in here and how many times have we had radio silence from back benchers of the member’s party? Every time—silence.
If we are now all in favour of a ban, I welcome that. I absolutely welcome it. If we are now all in favour of a ban, except the Tories—and I include Fergus Ewing in that description—let us take every step that this Parliament allows to make it a real ban and let us see the Government show its commitment by ensuring that the ban is as tight as possible.
If the Government does that, it will incur the wrath of Jim Ratcliffe; it will incur the wrath of Ineos; and it will incur the wrath of the Tory party and probably of Fergus Ewing as well, but it will get my support and I believe that it will get the support of the overwhelming majority of members of this Parliament. In doing so, we will join France, Bulgaria, and several US states in legally saying no to fracking.16:27
When it is time to reflect upon my tenure as an MSP, and I hope that that will be well into the future, 3 October 2017 will stand out as a genuine highlight. It was of course the day on which Paul Wheelhouse announced that, subject to the support of the Parliament, Scotland would not permit fracking on its soil. As an implacable opponent of hydraulic fracturing in Scotland, I warmly welcomed that decision.
When the moratorium was announced, I forecast in this chamber that any robust examination of the evidence available from across the globe would lead us to this point. It was therefore something of a relief that it did that and that I was spared the possibility of having to vote against the Scottish Government position, because had the debate today been about allowing fracking, I would have been not only speaking against the motion but voting against it at decision time. For me, for environmental and climate change reasons, fracking is not something that we should go anywhere near.
However, 3 October was personally memorable for another reason. That evening, I, along with Claudia Beamish and Angus MacDonald, had the enormous privilege of being in the great hall of Edinburgh castle to see Christiana Figueres presented with the Shackleton medal to honour her enormous contribution to having the world finally recognise its responsibilities in tackling climate change. More important, we heard an utterly inspirational speech from her.
I had the further privilege of having a brief chat with Ms Figueres. I will not breach her confidence here and reveal the specific detail of what we discussed and what she had to say, although I suspect that she would not be concerned if I did. I will just say that she was well sighted on the fracking decision, and her message was simple: “Well done, Scotland; keep on doing what you are doing.”
I recognise that other voices are raised in opposition to the decision but I stand with the architect of the Paris climate agreement on this. Of course, Christiana Figueres is not the only globally respected figure to have endorsed the decision. Former would-be US presidential contender, Senator Bernie Sanders, who has seen first-hand the impact of fracking across the pond, praised Scotland and challenged his own country to follow our lead.
We have all followed tales of the impacts of fracking in the USA, where it has been practised for a decade or so. Let us look at the changes in emission figures in that time. One study highlighted a 30 per cent increase in atmospheric methane concentrations between 2002 and 2014 in the US. Although the paper does not attempt to identify the source of the methane, that period coincides with the development of unconventional oil and gas. A further study has estimated that 40 per cent of recent growth in atmospheric methane between 2007 and 2014 can be attributed to oil and gas activities. I argue that that offers a pretty sound reason for supporting the ban.
We are told by United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas that, in choosing to ban domestic onshore exploration, the Scottish Government is turning its back on a potential 3,000 jobs and £6.5 billion of economic benefit. However, the independent economic impact research that was conducted by KPMG concludes that direct and indirect economic benefit combined through to 2062 would amount to a cumulative maximum of only £3.4 billion, and that the number of related jobs—both direct and indirect—would peak at 1,400. Those figures are not insignificant, but they are nowhere near those speculated by UKOOG, which, with due respect, has a vested interest.
The fact is that Scotland is already committed to an energy future that brings with it financial and jobs benefits. Indeed, we are already well down that road. The renewables sector is currently reckoned to have a turnover of £5 billion and supports 26,000 jobs. Why would we jeopardise the natural environment, which, whatever other value we place on it, is worth £20 billion a year to our economy and directly supports 60,000 jobs, as Ash Denham noted? Having committed ourselves to a low-carbon future, surely the focus must remain on transitioning away from fossil fuel use and towards increasing our renewable generation.
As Parliament rose for recess, it was revealed that, on the first Monday of October, wind turbines in Scotland generated more than double the electricity that the country used on that day. Just last week, the First Minister opened the world’s first floating wind farm, which will generate enough power for around 20,000 homes. If we can remove the blockages to offshore generation in the firths of Forth and Tay, we can really hit our renewable energy generation targets—and in a cost-effective way. UK Government research has shown that renewables have the potential to become more cost-effective generation sources than conventional gas-fired power stations by the mid-2020s. The lifetime cost of onshore wind is estimated to fall to £63 per megawatt hour generated, which is below the comparable cost from gas over the same timeframe. Offshore wind costs are also estimated to reduce, to become competitive with gas by 2030.
We do not need to frack. For the good of the environment, we should not frack. In a few minutes’ time, let us make it clear that Scotland will not frack.16:32
There is a legitimate debate to be had here, but it has proved to be nigh on impossible to cut through the rhetoric, hostility and, quite frankly, nonsense that seem to characterise any discussion of fracking. I hope to be able to bring some light to a debate that, so far, has contained rather more heat.
First of all, we should be clear about what hydraulic fracturing is. Put simply, it is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into rock deep underground, forcing open existing fissures within the rock, and allowing oil and gas trapped within it to be forced to the surface.
Although the process is often described as “unconventional oil and gas extraction”, that is something of a misnomer. Fracking is neither a new nor a particularly unconventional method. The first oil well in the UK to use hydraulic fracturing did so in 1965. By the late 1970s, it was common throughout the North Sea and the world. Frankly, the technology behind the Hywind floating wind farm project that the First Minister opened last week—really interesting though it is—is decidedly more unconventional than fracking. One of the most commonly expressed fears about fracking—it has been expressed today—is that it uses chemical additives in the fluid that is used to fracture the rocks. However, these days, more than 99 per cent of the fluid volume tends to be water and sand, so chemical additives equate to less than 1 per cent. Such additives tend to be polyacrylamides, which are deemed to be non-harmful.
There have been, unquestionably, instances where lax regulation and poor environmental protections have led to the use of inappropriate chemicals in the fracking process, but that is a failure of regulation and monitoring, not of science. Even among the scientists and experts commissioned by the Scottish Government there is a strong body of opinion that believes that it is possible to have a successful onshore fracking programme in Scotland with a strong regulatory and monitoring framework.
It is right that, in taking such decisions, we take the utmost care. We must always balance risk against reward and consider what can be done to mitigate that risk, but on issues such as this one, the debate is reduced to such a simplistic level that it is all but useless.
Wind power is frequently held up as the epitome of clean, environmentally friendly electricity but, in common with every form of energy production, it has its negatives. I am supporting constituents who live close to wind farms who experience issues with water boreholes failing or becoming contaminated as a result of turbine installations. You do not have to be Archimedes to recognise that pouring hundreds of thousands of tonnes of concrete creates significant potential for disruption to the water table and local watercourses, not to mention water contamination.
No form of energy production is risk free, and the Scottish Government has demonstrated that it is perfectly happy to accept a degree of risk, but only when it fits with its narrow view of progress. On nuclear power, as has been mentioned, although it will allow no new nuclear power stations, it will let the old ones keep running, because while Scotland needs the base-load in the grid to offset the instability of wind power, it does not want the hassle that the anti-nuclear lobby will generate at any suggestion that we might build new, safer, more efficient and cleaner nuclear reactors.
The Scottish Government will allow no research on genetically modified crops because, although we are rightly proud of our globally recognised talent in the biological sciences sector, it would prefer not to incur the wrath of the anti-GM campaigners, for whom no regulatory system could be stringent enough to prevent what they see as the upcoming apocalypse.
We are seeing the same thing with fracking. Rather than exploring the opportunity to secure a source of energy and jobs while adopting a cautious approach to rolling out the technology, the Scottish Government has chosen to slam the door shut and seek praise for the quality of its lock. If only self-righteousness was an energy source, we could all huddle round Paul Wheelhouse and his cohorts and keep warm.
It is no wonder that SNP members are so happy to put up wind farms everywhere. It reminds them of themselves and the way that they turn in whatever direction the wind happens to be blowing at the time. Renewables are undoubtedly where most if not all of our power will come from in—hopefully—the not-too-distant future, but we cannot meet those grand ambitions in a single leap. We are on a journey and we need to be pragmatic about the steps that we take to reach our final goal.
I would like more research to be done into hydrogen fuel cell technology, because it is arguably a more sustainable power system for electric vehicles than batteries and mains charging, but on all such issues, there is nothing but silence from the Scottish Government.
Will the member take an intervention?
The member is in his final 30 seconds.
Richard Feynman, the Nobel prize-winning physicist, said:
“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
That is not a comment about scientists being ignorant or a dismissal of experts; his point was that science is about people embracing doubt and being open to the possibility that they might be wrong. That is why science has trials and why tests and experiments are conducted. A process might be wrong, but it is still important to try and to carry out research and development in order to improve, but time and again the Scottish Government shies away from that approach. Time and again, it chooses to drive a policy that is based on upsetting the smallest number of people for the shortest amount of time.
Whatever our position is on the merits of fracking, we should be wary of taking decisions with long-term implications that are based on the fear of short-term repercussions.16:38
Along with most members, I welcome the Scottish Government’s proposition for a strict and effective ban on fracking that will use planning powers to ensure that applications for unconventional oil and gas extraction are considered in line with the Government’s very strong position that fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland.
The decision is a victory for campaigners and communities, including the many campaigners in Edinburgh Northern and Leith. I, too, pay tribute to the our Forth campaigners. The decision is also a victory for the long-term public health, environmental and economic interests of Scotland. It is a victory that is based on evidence: a geological survey, a climate change impact assessment, a health impact assessment and, crucially, an economic impact assessment. Those who argue in favour of fracking on economic grounds forget the crucial point in political philosophy that policy should always be about more than just gross domestic product; it should be about the common good of Scotland and the society and the economy that we are trying to build.
The Tory opposition to the ban on fracking is just another demonstration of the Tories’ economic incompetence. The old story of a quick buck that runs through Tory political philosophy has been clear for all to see in the debate. Research from KPMG has shown that fracking would contribute very little to the economy in the short term. It would contribute on average only 0.1 per cent of GDP, or only £1.2 billion over the coming decades. We should compare that to the tourism industry, which could be impacted by fracking and which provides the Scottish economy with an annual revenue of £11 billion and makes up 4.2 per cent of GDP. We should compare that Tory position with the London School of Economics research that shows that a no-deal position from the Tories on Brexit would result in Scotland losing £30 billion in GVA.
Changes to subsidy arrangements for renewables have put one in six renewables jobs at risk and continue to negatively impact our growing and strong renewables industry. That is why I will strongly support the Liberal Democrat amendment. As WWF has said, if Scotland were to allow fracking, that would “fly in the face” of the much-welcomed ambition, which the Tories apparently support, of securing half of all Scotland’s energy needs from renewables by 2030. We need to support our renewables sector. It has the capacity to generate much more onshore wind resource, although that is part of the renewables sector that the Tories have been damaging through their bad decisions on the contract for difference subsidy arrangements at Westminster. We have 25 per cent of Europe’s tidal energy resource, 10 per cent of Europe’s wave energy resource and 25 per cent of its offshore wind resource. We do not need fracking, as we have huge renewable potential in Scotland still to utilise.
I support the Labour and Green amendments, which will strengthen the position and build on the legally robust and evidence-based approach that the Scottish Government has taken. The decision that I hope Parliament will make tonight will be a move in favour of the next generation and the benefit of the status quo. It will be a move towards low-carbon technology, investing in which is the most important thing that we can do for our economic and technological energy progress. It will be a move to protect the environment and to help tackle climate change.
Will the member take an intervention?
The member is in his last minute.
The decision will also represent the democratic will of the Scottish people, who voted primarily for political parties that were sceptical about fracking. It will reflect the democratic will as expressed in the 60,000 consultation responses. Given that only 1 per cent of those responses were in favour of fracking and that the Tories are in favour of it, does that demonstrate once and for all that the Tories only stand up for the 1 per cent in our society?
Let us send a clear message that the Parliament opposes fracking, now and in the future, not just for our benefit today but for the benefit of our environment, the wider economy and the development of our economy, public health and the common good. I ask members to support the motion.
We come to the closing speeches. I call Liam McArthur to close for the Liberal Democrats.16:43
It has been a strange debate. Angus MacDonald wanted to take us back to the eocene epoch, complaining that the debate had not been scheduled 50 million years ago, a point that he might wish to take up with the Parliamentary Bureau in due course. Further, in a political realignment not seen since the eocene epoch, Murdo Fraser acted as the self-appointed spokesperson for the GMB and Jim Sillars.
Claudia Beamish helpfully set out the background to the debate. She reflected on her proposed member’s bill and the vote in the Parliament on an amendment that secured support from us, Labour and the Greens. A number of members, including Mark Ruskell, have pointed to the development of the consensus outwith the Parliament and the work of a number of NGOs and genuine community and grass-roots organisations. I said in my opening speech that I understand and sympathise with the frustration that those groups have felt about the length of time that it has taken to get to this point, and I am sure that many of them will continue campaigning on the issue. It is worth putting on record their contribution to getting us to where we are now.
All the speeches reflected the four broad categories of concern about the health, social, environmental and economic impacts of fracking.
I think that the minister was right, when he opened the debate, to remind us of the position that Healthcare Improvement Scotland has taken in light of the epidemiological impact being so uncertain. The precautionary principle was the only appropriate approach.
On the social impact, we heard testimony and insights from front-line communities. Angus MacDonald, Neil Findlay, Ben Macpherson and other members pointed to the emotions in communities about the impact that fracking might have, not least on housing. Claudia Beamish was quite right to draw a parallel with the experience of the many communities that are still enduring the impact of the opencast mining industry.
It was perhaps inevitable that the focus of much of the debate was on the other two areas: the environmental and economic impacts. A series of speakers from the Tory benches drew attention to what they see as a lack of scientific evidence for the position that the Government has adopted and which other parties in this Parliament have backed. I think that the minister was right to point out that the Tories appeared to support fracking even before they saw the evidence that was gathered, let alone the public views on the issue.
It is fair to say that there will always be an element of doubt around the scientific evidence on the issue. Public policy needs to be guided by science; it should also reflect the fact that scientific evidence comes in many forms. The UK Committee on Climate Change has consistently warned about the likely rise in emissions and the risk to our climate change targets, as it has warned about the effects of offsetting, given the need to reduce emissions elsewhere. Mark Ruskell was right to say that there would be more displacement of renewables than there would be of coal. In an energy future that is secure, sustainable and affordable, renewables, storage, energy efficiency and demand reduction have to be our direction of travel.
Renewables are important for jobs and wealth creation, too. The economic impacts in that regard are far more profound and important than the impact of fracking. Many members cited the KPMG report, which shines a light on the extent to which the economic benefits of fracking have been overstated.
It appears that Murdo Fraser and some of his colleagues are happy to ban onshore wind and to let rip with fracking. They do not want a wind farm in their back gardens or fields, but they are quite happy for fracking to take place underneath people’s communities and villages. The Tories need to be clear about the sectors that would bear the impact of offsetting emissions, because offsetting would have a tangible effect on the economic impact of fracking, were fracking to take place.
As someone who was refereed by John Underhill when he was a referee for the East of Scotland Football League, I can say with certainty that I have not always agreed with his decisions. However, I bow to his understanding of matters geological and I think that he is quite right to suggest that the economic benefits of fracking have been overstated, for a number of sensible geological reasons.
For environmental, economic, health and social reasons, we should not open up a new carbon front. If fracking is the fag-end of the carbon economy, it is time to quit. I look forward to the Parliament backing the ban this evening when it backs the Government motion and the Lib Dem, Labour and Green amendments.16:48
It is often said that politicians are behind the curve when it comes to public opinion, but it seems that we are 55 million years behind the geological reality, according to Heriot-Watt University’s chief scientist, Professor Underhill, as Angus MacDonald said.
It is more than two years since I moved a motion in this Parliament that highlighted the
“significant public opposition to new methods of fossil fuel extraction such as fracking”,
and called on the Parliament to implement a ban on unconventional fossil fuel extraction in Scotland, to protect our communities—whom I cannot thank enough for their involvement in opposing fracking—and our environment and to respect our international climate commitments.
At that time, not one other party in this Parliament supported my call. That day, Shale Gas International gleefully declared:
“The Green Party failed to ban fracking in Scotland yesterday.”
Shale Gas International went on to say:
“Alison Johnstone ... argued that ‘a ban on unconventional gas in Scotland would focus attention on truly renewable sources rather than scraping the bottom of the fossil fuels barrel.’ She also rejected the claims that exploration of shale gas deposits will lower household energy bills, saying that consumers are being offered ‘false hope’”—
just as I do today.
The article went on to say that John Swinney, the then finance secretary, Labour’s Iain Gray and Tory MSP Murdo Fraser had rejected my call for a ban. I warmly welcome the fact that four out of five parties in the chamber firmly oppose this technology today. I politely point out to Mr Findlay that on 7 May 2014 he voted against my motion calling for a ban on fracking.
The Greens have always recognised the uncertainties and risks that fracking and other new fossil fuel technologies pose. The Government’s research during the moratorium has strengthened that case, pointing to the lack of evidence needed to assure us that the public health risk is negligible; and the economic case was also found to be weaker than expected. While that evidence gathering was under way, the Greens and others were on the front line, standing shoulder to shoulder with the central Scotland communities that would be most impacted by fracking. Like many others, I have spent time in packed community halls where the public raised their concerns with developers, along with the our Forth and concerned communities for Falkirk campaigns.
I have lodged motions, which gained meagre support, and asked numerous parliamentary questions highlighting the risks of the fracking industry. The Greens came close to securing a 2km buffer zone between communities and fracking developments when the previous national planning framework was up for discussion. I almost won that vote in committee, but the convener’s vote swung it. I therefore commend Murdo Fraser on being consistent on the issue, although he is consistently wrong.
I welcome the Government’s announcement that it will ban fracking but, as Mark Ruskell highlighted, we need to ensure that the ban extends beyond the lifetime of this Government and is subject to robust parliamentary scrutiny. Placing in the upcoming national planning framework a clear statement opposing fracking will ensure that the ban cannot be simply overturned by a future minister’s signature on a letter to planning authorities but must undergo cross-party scrutiny in the Parliament. For that reason, we will support the Labour amendment, which notes, as does our amendment, the importance of using the national planning framework to ensure a long-term ban. Liam McArthur rightly noted that our future lies in investing in our renewable energy industries, and the Greens will also support the Liberal Democrat amendment.
However, the Green amendment goes further because it calls for the Scottish Government to use its powers over oil and gas licensing when they are transferred from the UK Government. We must use the full range of powers that are available to us to ensure that the ban against fracking remains in place for generations ahead. Arguing that gas might be lower carbon than coal is fair enough, but it is a stretch too far to place gas within the low-carbon economy; that would be like saying “D’you know what? I’d like to lose weight, so I’ll forgo a fresh cream cake and I’ll just have a wee plate of chocolate biscuits instead,” and pretending that that is health food. Gas is a stop-gap that would divert much-needed skills and investment from our abundant renewables.
Fossil fuels are estimated by the International Energy Agency to receive subsidies of £380 billion a year. If only similar incentives were offered to develop renewables. It astonishes me that the so-called party of big business does not get the economics—no wonder its tree is no longer green. Renewables can sustain livelihoods and communities and provide for our energy needs for the long term. As the minister noted, Lord Browne, chair of the fracking company Cuadrilla and a key UK Government adviser, and Professor John Underhill have agreed that the economic opportunities of fracking are overhyped.
I will wrap it up there. I will support the Green amendment.16:53
There is no doubt that we are heavily reliant for our energy needs on gas, which accounts for some 55 per cent of our energy consumption and is likely to be just as important in the future for energy, for heating and for the petrochemical industry. We therefore need to look ahead to forecast future needs and challenges.
Demand is forecast to remain roughly the same for the next 20 years, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. We know that about 50 per cent of our gas is currently imported from places such as Norway and Belgium, but also from places such as Qatar. Security of supply is an issue that should concern us in the medium and long term so that we guard against our supply being vulnerable to instability in some of the countries from which we import gas. Overreliance on imports does not give us security of supply. All that said, however, I do not think that onshore fracking is the answer.
There are a number of different approaches that we need to take, but my starting point is that everything that we do has to be seen in the context of the climate change strategy and the statutory targets that we, as a Parliament, all agreed. The reduction of demand and consumption has a part to play, as does the pursuit of new opportunities offshore, where we have been fracking for some time. We should not let up on our focus on renewables, either, because although they will not provide for all our energy needs, they are an increasing and welcome part of our energy mix. In that overall context, it seems to me to be a little bit perverse that we should want to use another fossil fuel, which would run contrary to everything that we have said in the Parliament.
The Scottish Government—rightly, in my view—commissioned six expert reports that cover everything from health impacts to an economic impact assessment. Others have touched on health and the environment and I do not want to repeat what they said. I want to talk exclusively about the economic impact. Contrary to what others might think, many of us in the Parliament are actually quite pragmatic. If the jobs and economic growth had been significant, we would have needed to weigh that up very carefully. At a time when the economy is flatlining, we should of course consider the potential advantages, but ultimately it is about striking a balance between environmental and economic interests in the long term.
Many claims were made—many of them stellar—for the economic benefits of fracking for jobs and our economy. Many claims were made about what it would deliver in the form of cheap fuel that would help us to tackle fuel poverty. Do not get me wrong—those are both attractive propositions, but unfortunately the claims tended to be far greater than the reality. Investing in onshore fracking would not grow the economy by a significant margin.
Let us consider the numbers in the KPMG report. If we went for fracking, the estimated spend in Scotland over the next 45 years would be £2.2 billion. That is £48 million a year. The lowest estimate of total Scottish spend is £0.5 billion, which is £11 million a year. That is not a huge amount of money. If we then consider the tax take—something that should now interest all of us in this Parliament—the tax yield would be £1.4 billion across the UK to spend over 45 years. In Scotland, we would get a Barnett share of about £140 million over 45 years. I ask members to pause and work that out. It is about £3 million a year. That would not make a significant difference.
The peak employment would be about 1,400 jobs, and the lowest estimate is 470 jobs. Not all of those jobs would be for the entirety of the 45 years, as the duration would depend on production and the scale of development. Although that is undoubtedly better than having no jobs, those figures plus the tax take and the spend in the economy need to be set against the potential environmental impacts and the key question of whether it is worth the risks—and there are risks, some of which were outlined by Neil Findlay and others in their speeches in the debate.
I am not convinced that the numbers in the KPMG report represent such a significant economic impact that we should proceed with fracking. Others say that fracking would provide us with a cheap form of fuel and we should be able to tackle fuel poverty. Nobody would wish that more than me, but I note the observation in the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s briefing, which was particularly helpful, that it would not actually be any cheaper as we are part of the open market.
Much mention has been made of respecting the science. I agree whole-heartedly 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 would be the ones who would live with this in their communities.
Labour has whole-heartedly supported my colleague Claudia Beamish’s proposed member’s bill, which has undoubtedly been very helpful in encouraging the Scottish Government to do more. I am pleased that the Scottish Government will accept our amendment, which will place fracking within the national planning framework so that the approach cannot be changed at a whim by ministers but will require a vote of the Parliament to overturn it. That is a step short of a legislative ban, but it is nevertheless very welcome, and we are pleased to support it.17:00
The SNP’s position on fracking has been nothing short of impractical and badly principled and, sadly, nothing in this debate has shown it to be otherwise. For years now, the SNP has dithered on fracking, and swathes of the central belt will now miss out on what should have been the gold rush of this century. As has been pointed out, community benefit of over £600 million could have been ploughed into those areas. New schools could have been built, new playing fields could have been created, and community centres could have been upgraded. Instead, the SNP has turned its back on Scotland and put its own political agenda ahead of scientific evidence.
It is not only the central belt that the SNP is letting down; 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. Perhaps Labour might reflect on that the next time that it speaks of energy sector job losses.
As Dean Lockhart correctly pointed out, reversing the decision would have attracted £6.5 billion of investment, created more than 3,000 jobs and generated nearly £4 billion in tax revenues. Shame on the Scottish Government for turning down a fantastic chance for many Scots. High-quality, highly skilled jobs would have taken in Scottish talent and boosted our young people’s chances and aspirations. Those skills will now develop in England.
Labour’s position is again all over the shop, but it does not reflect the shop floor. Claudia Beamish and her colleagues now choose to side with the Greens, and it appears that they listen to their unions only when they want to stop rather than create work.
This debate is not just about communities and the economy missing out; it is also about our environment. Even on that subject, the position of Mark Ruskell and the Greens smacks of hypocrisy. We know that a shift to natural gas from coal has cut more than 2 billion tonnes of CO2 in the past decade. That is over 70 per cent more successful than reducing emissions through renewable energy. Even the former leader of Greenpeace has said that the movement needs to have an “urgent rethink” over energy sources.
However, the demands for gas are not just about energy. There is a huge lack of understanding about the industry that produces the products that we use in our everyday lives. It is nearly impossible to get through a day without using multiple products that are derived from gas and without the chemicals that are produced at Grangemouth. Products from shampoo, clothing and contact lenses to washing powder all contain gas derivatives. I am not sure about the rest of the members in the chamber, but I, for one, am keen to maintain a basic level of hygiene.
Denying Scotland the security of its own supply whether for energy or products is also denying savings to our consumers. From fuel poverty to rising household expenses, the consequences of that decision will be costly. However, the SNP knows that and continues to import 40,000 barrels of fracked shale gas every day. As one of my colleagues noted, the Royal Society of Edinburgh has pointed out that
“The global carbon footprint of the gas that Scotland imports will be far higher than for any onshore production in Scotland.”
There is utter hypocrisy, but the SNP does not care for facts and is happy for it to happen somewhere else, as long as it is not in its back yard. As Murdo Fraser pointed out, the minister and his colleagues have ignored that point in their offerings today.
Senior members of the SNP and members of its own scientific panel have real concerns about the decision and have called for proper engagement with the industry. So why will the SNP hold a poll comprising two lobbying groups over the balanced evidence that my colleague Jamie Greene calls for? We need to carefully consider what sort of message the ill-thought-out ban sends to the world. Academics, scientists and engineers now know that the SNP Government is not for knowledge and expertise and puts political posturing first. Forget about talking Scotland down, this is letting Scotland down.
This is a massive missed opportunity. At the SNP party conference, there was talk of progress. However, is it progress to deny these communities a chance? Is it progress to stop thousands of jobs being created? Is it progress to ignore the scientists and academics? Is it progress to ban something only to import it from elsewhere? No, it is simply sheer hypocrisy.
I call Paul Wheelhouse to wind up. You have some spare time, minister, so you can speak until 5.15.17:05
We are reaching the culmination of nearly four years of carefully considered investigation into unconventional oil and gas extraction—as opposed to the characterisation of the process by Conservative members. I wish to thank members who have spoken today for what has been a lively and—for the most part—informed debate.
Throughout the process, the Government has been fully committed to engaging in a balanced and informed debate with the public, stakeholders and Parliament. My breath was taken away by Alexander Burnett’s suggestion that we are acting on the basis of an opinion poll. We specifically said that it was not an opinion poll: it was a consultation that was open to all the people of Scotland and to international stakeholders—
International stakeholders took part in the consultation, in which some 60,500 people took part. As, I am sure, members will understand, we have specifically focused on the responses of people from Scotland.
Will the minister take an intervention?
I have heard enough from Conservative members today. I will respond to points that Conservative members made in the debate, so they will not be forgotten.
As I said, throughout the process we have been fully committed to having a balanced and informed debate. We have clearly and transparently sought out and made publicly available impartial and independent research evidence—including science—on the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas extraction, and we have encouraged and empowered everyone with an interest to express their views on that evidence. We recognised that it is a complex and highly technical issue, and we took a number of innovative steps to encourage participation in our public consultation.
As other members have done, I want to thank some specific groups. I want to thank everyone who took part in the exercise that we commissioned, whether they were for or against fracking, and everyone who provided us with expert evidence. We scrutinised the evidence, we carefully considered the response to our consultation and, on 3 October, we set out our position and put in place a robust effective ban on unconventional oil and gas extraction.
The decision on unconventional oil and gas does not exist in isolation; it must be viewed in the context of our longer-term ambitions for energy. A number of members made that point, and I fully acknowledge it. It must also be viewed in the context of manufacturing and the Scottish economy more generally and, of course, our climate change responsibilities. Jackie Baillie made an important point about offshore oil and gas. She is absolutely right that it is an important industry to support because it supplies three quarters of our primary energy needs. Offshore production of oil and gas in the North Sea has developed over the past half century as a highly regulated industry that uses some of the most advanced and comparatively least-polluting production methods in the world. That is why an industry that supports more than 100,000 jobs exists in Scotland.
Will the minister take an intervention?
I will, in a moment.
Jackie Baillie was also right to say that a strong and vibrant domestic offshore oil and gas industry can play a positive role in the future. We certainly want that role to be played in terms of a transition to low-carbon energy. I believe that the skill sets will migrate across to low-carbon activities, in due course.
The demands on our energy infrastructure will change dramatically in the decades ahead. As those changes unfold, we have a moral responsibility to tackle climate change, an economic responsibility to prepare Scotland for new low-carbon opportunities, and a social responsibility to help those who are in most need to access affordable energy.
In our final energy strategy, we will outline the role that gas infrastructure could play in Scotland’s future energy system, including the opportunities for heat networks and low-carbon or zero-carbon gases such as biogas and hydrogen. In that context, I note with interest the UK Government’s “The Clean Growth Strategy—Leading the way to a low carbon future”, and its renewed—if rather belated—interest in carbon capture, usage and storage. Under the right conditions, that technology has the potential to support a new industry in Scotland that would not only exploit Scotland’s geological and industrial resources, but would do so while contributing to our mission to tackle climate change. We will work to ensure that UK funding for industrial decarbonisation initiatives reflect the scale of ambition for important Scottish industrial clusters, for example at Grangemouth, as well as our ambition for new low-carbon sectors in the economy.
Achieving our vision for energy will also be crucial to our efforts to tackle fuel poverty. As the First Minister has announced, the Scottish Government is developing plans for an energy supply company that will support our efforts to tackle fuel poverty and help to achieve our ambitious climate change targets.
A number of members mentioned Lord John Browne: I have mentioned him and Alison Johnstone has also mentioned him recently. I will give the quotation from Lord Browne that has been used. Members should bear in mind the fact that he is the former chairman of Cuadrilla. He said:
“We are part of a well-connected European gas market and, unless it is a gigantic amount of gas, it is not going to have material impact on price”
and KPMG has said that
“It is worth noting that given limited recoverable volumes, UK UOG outputs would only represent a fraction of the supply to the global market … furthermore, the scale of development in Scotland will be much lower than that in the US and hence Scottish UOG is unlikely to have an impact on global energy prices.”
That finding suggests that there would be no noticeable effect on energy costs for households. I notice that the Conservatives have not made the point about energy costs to any extent: they know that the game is up on that. They had been making the point loudly since 3 October, so I hope that they have finally been convinced.
I have a question relating to an earlier point that the minister made about offshore oil and gas. When, in a previous role, the minister had responsibility for climate change, he was one of the few people in the SNP who accepted the basic principle that the majority of existing fossil fuel reserves would have to be left in the ground, as we are now going to do with onshore shale reserves. Has he come to a view about what proportion of existing fossil fuel reserves needs to stay in the ground unburned in order for us to achieve our climate change objectives?
I am happy to discuss that point with Mr Harvie in due course, but I want to focus on the debate that we are having now, which is about not creating a new source of high-carbon energy through unconventional oil and gas.
Looking beyond the energy strategy, Scotland’s manufacturing and chemicals industries continues to play a crucial role in the economy and we will continue to give them strong support.
In my final few minutes, I will turn to points that members have made. To start with, I will highlight a few that the Conservatives have made. I said in response to Murdo Fraser that he had failed to acknowledge that 63 per cent of the gas that is produced in the UK is produced in Scotland, where there is 8.5 per cent of the population: Scotland is a net exporter of gas. Although we import ethane to help Ineos at Grangemouth, we are a significant exporter of gas. Members were probably shocked—those who were not in the chamber should know this—that when I mentioned that the biggest threat to the Scottish economy is Brexit, Mr Fraser laughed. He failed to acknowledge that 80,000 jobs may be put at risk by a hard Brexit, and he ignored the evidence in today’s The Herald that suggests that there will be an impact of up to £30 billion on the Scottish economy. The Conservatives totally ignored that in their responses. If they believe that economic impact is important, they should acknowledge it and act now to prevent a hard Brexit.
I pay tribute to Claudia Beamish—although we were in a different position in that she set out initially to have a ban. I endorse the Labour amendment and the Green and Liberal Democrat amendments. Subject to the strategic environmental assessment, we will take steps to enshrine the position in the national planning framework. I thank Claudia Beamish for her courtesy, her engagement with me on the issue and her hard work to deliver her consultation. Time permitting, I will happily discuss with her co-operative models in renewables. We share an interest in that and I am keen to work with her on it.
Mark Ruskell summed up the situation: the debate is an opportunity for the progressive parties in Parliament to unite in giving a strong message about the future of unconventional oil and gas, and to send a message to the Conservatives that people’s views matter. We have listened to the science and we have considered the economic evidence, which the Conservatives have almost completely ignored. They have cherry-picked distorted figures from the evidence that KPMG produced. It is not working. Mark Ruskell summed up the situation well: it is just not worth it. He is absolutely right in that respect. As I set out in my opening remarks, I confirm to him that we will use the licensing powers in line with the Scottish Government’s position.
Liam McArthur made two excellent speeches, and I thank him for the positivity of his remarks. He was right to identify the significant challenges that the evidence has thrown up. We have, perhaps, taken the scenic route, although not over 55 million years. I cannot take credit for the first 54 million-plus years of the process to which Angus MacDonald referred, but I can certainly do so for the past year and a half. Angus MacDonald and other members cited the strong views of their constituents. I hope that they will be satisfied with the outcome, if Parliament votes to endorse our position.
I am aware that time is running out, but I want to mention something that Christina McKelvie put well when she said that we are putting communities first, because that is important. We are listening to the science, but we have also listened to the views of communities.
Claire Baker was right to identify the higher cost of extraction in Scotland, which is cited in the evidence. It should not be assumed that the industry would be as cost efficient here as it has been elsewhere in the world.
Colin Beattie also mentioned high energy prices. I cannot see whether Maurice Golden is in the chamber just now, but I was watching “Scotland Tonight” last night and I think that he will be reflecting on his remark that fracking would provide a solution to the finances of Scotland in the coming year. No: it will not. He will have to come up with another plan.