A busy week for the fracking debate in Scotland, but a decision still looks some way off.
There was some speculation ahead of today's publication of the research sponsored by the Scottish Government that the minister would announce a bill on fracking. Instead he announced a public consultation will be launched in January, before any decision is made on whether to allow fracking. At the same time, the government will publish its climate change plan and a full strategic environmental assessment. In the meantime the moratorium remains in place.
The independent research published today covers the following issues in relation to UOG:
Public health impacts
Climate change impacts
Understanding and monitoring induced seismic activity
Understanding and mitigating community level impacts from transportation
Decommissioning, site restoration and aftercare.
The Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy Paul Wheelhouse said: “The extensive package of research published today will ensure the public has access to a comprehensive evidence base on the potential health, economic and environment impacts of UOG."
FoE head of campaigns Mary Church said: "The economic case for pursuing an unconventional gas industry in Scotland simply doesn't stand up, while the risks of doing so could be utterly devastating for communities and the environment. No state has had a moratorium on fracking, looked at the evidence and decided it's a good idea."
These are initial reactions and it will take all the interested parties some time to digest this research. Meanwhile, other studies will add to concerns over fracking. In particular, a report in TheFerret highlights a new study by scientists at Yale University that indicates chemical contamination from the fracking industry could increase the risk of childhood leukaemia.
Scottish Labour is keeping up the pressure on the Scottish Government by lodging a Holyrood member's bill aiming to "change the law to ban fracking in Scotland". Labour MSP Claudia Beamish has launched a public consultation as part of her bid to have fracking banned in Scotland. This follows a vote in the Scottish Parliament last June, in favour of an outright ban.
Her Bill has a focus on the climate change implications of fracking. She said: "Scotland relying on fracking for our energy needs will lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to clean energy. SNP ministers now face an urgent choice - they can work with Labour to ban fracking, or they can work with the Tories to allow drilling under family homes in parts of central Scotland."
Climate change is certainly the right focus for a fracking ban. For me there are three key arguments against lifting the moratorium.
Firstly, we rightly follow the precautionary principle in terms of safety. Something our industrial heritage has taught us - just ask anyone suffering from asbestosis or other industrial diseases. Fracking in the wide open spaces of the USA has highlighted significant safety concerns. In Scotland fracking will take place under people's homes in a densely populated area.
Secondly, there is considerable doubt that gas from fracking is even economically viable. Many experts doubted the financial case, even before the falling price of gas. As for jobs, well, we have seen fanciful claims for other energy sources and few have delivered what was promised.
Thirdly, we don't need it. We should not compromise Scotland's climate change targets, or the UK's broader commitment to limiting global climate change to two degrees. Scotland should be leading the world in moving to clean renewable power, not aiming to extract ever more inaccessible fossil fuels. The risk is that shale gas doesn't just replace imported gas - it replaces renewables.
The third reason alone is reason enough to ban fracking in Scotland. Launching a consultation alongside the climate action plan is therefore a helpful juxtaposition. At the very least the Scottish Government's position is significantly less gung-ho than the UK government. However, an outright ban is now the way ahead, so we can concentrate on a clean energy future.