Shale development has the potential to deliver substantial economic benefits to the UK economy and for local communities where supplies are located. Of course, safety and environmental protection are of paramount importance, and I believe that community engagement is vital.
As you may know, fracking is a devolved issue here in Scotland, meaning that it is for the SNP Scottish Government to decide on policy and planning rules in this area. The SNP has spent the last year claiming that fracking is banned in Scotland, only to admit, in court, that this was not actually the case at all. This deliberate misleading of both communities and businesses has created significant confusion as to the situation in Scotland, and the SNP Government must make its position clear immediately.
In England, the UK Government is not bypassing local decision-making. A consultation has been launched to consider whether the early stages of shale exploration should be treated as permitted development, and in particular the circumstances where this might be appropriate. This would allow early exploratory work to proceed without requiring planning applications, although planning applications would still be required for fracking.
The SNP’s claim to have banned fracking is rooted in dogma and ignores the economic benefits it could bring to Scotland. According to the Scottish Government’s own scientists, the extraction of shale from Scotland, with the right safety checks, could be done safely. It could also support thousands of jobs and deliver economic benefits to communities.
Fracking would not preclude renewable investment, and I would like to see the two industries develop side by side. 50 per cent of Scottish electricity is derived from renewable sources, but gas is widely used in heating, which accounts for more than half of the energy consumed in Scotland. For as long as gas still plays a significant role, I hope the SNP drop their opposition to fracking.