I’ve made my views about fracking very clear in the recent past. There’s a vote in parliament today on the subject, though, so let me make my position crystal clear again and explain what I’ll do at the vote.
I’m satisfied that fracking’s a technology of low risk. It’s not my job, as Falkirk’s member of parliament, to second-guess the experts who regulate fracking in Scotland, although I do think the wider views of Scottish academics on the subject are important as they help form the frameworks of thought used by those experts. Of course there will be healthy debate amongst the academics, but I have confidence in the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to take full account of such debate. It’s not that I always take a supine view of ‘the authorities’ – more that I’ve met and spoken to SEPA experts over the years and I think they’re a competent, decent, professional bunch that Scots should have confidence in. I’ve seen no argument to convince me that their views and decisions are not to be trusted.
After safety the jobs of thousands of local workers, and the vast value they create in the local economy, is my highest priority. Fracking has already assured thousands of jobs in the Falkirk area well into the future. These include many highly paid and skilled jobs at Ineos and many more in the local supply chain and amongst service providers. I hope the technology, and related ones, will be accepted as long term contributors to our energy mix and energy security, and help make household and business energy costs as affordable as possible. In the medium term, it’s reasonable to infer that fracking in the US, the UK and elsewhere will reduce our reliance on energy presently sourced in the middle-east and elsewhere.
Of course, a very small number of local people opposed to fracking and coalbed methane extraction in general have been campaigning that I’m all wrong. That’s their democratic prerogative, and indeed they’ve convinced a larger number of people close to possible exploration sites that the value of their homes might be at risk. I did talk to people who value houses for a living about that, and there’s simply no evidence to support the notion. In the end, if people want to talk down the value of their own houses I guess that’s up to them.
There’s been a last-minute, and in view of the coming general election, highly-politicised report put out by a committee at the House of Commons calling for a moratorium on fracking permissions in the UK. I understand why politicians worried about the possible impact of fracking upon their chances of re-election would want to have a go in this way. Most likely, they’ll use press reportage today in their campaign material. But otherwise, I don’t think the report will be remembered beyond today’s vote. This article provides the references for the report and also the much more substantial parliamentary inquiry into fracking the new report tries, unsuccessfully, to spoil.
The anti-fracking argument seems to me reminiscent of the now-discredited anti-GM arguments of the early part of this century. It’s based on poor science and is evidence-free. Its protagonists are mainly relatively well-off folk whose jobs don’t rely on energy production, and some folk living near exploration sites who’ve bought in to a pointless and potentially self-harming nimbyism. To be honest, I’ve been thoroughly shocked by the wholesale lack of concern amongst such folk about local jobs at Grangemouth and in the supply chain, of which there are many thousands. These jobs extend from those 2000 or so at Grangemouth directly reliant upon the coming importation of shale gas, to the larger number in the local supply chain, to the albeit smaller number of jobs likely to be created by the huge investment into coalbed methane extraction already announced by Grangemouth’s Ineos.
In the end, of course, it’s public confidence in safety which has to come first. Having spoken to many local folk in the Falkirk area about the issue of fracking, I’ve no doubt at all that the overwhelming majority are in favour of the new technologies that are putting Falkirk at the centre of the fast-growing Scottish shale gas industry, to the very great benefit of workers and their families across the region.
I accept, though, that Jim Murphy MP, Scottish Labour Party leader and Tom Greatrex MP, the Scot who will I hope be the UK Energy minister after the general election, have called for new conditions to apply to potential fracking operations and that the SNP has taken more or less the same position on fracking. I don’t doubt that their position is sincere and I understand why they are demanding even stronger commitments to ensure that fracking has full public support in Scotland.
I firmly want Labour to win the general election and I understand why politicians of all parties are nervous about fracking at this stage of the electoral cycle. I will therefore abstain in the votes today and seek to persuade Labour and SNP politicians, both from inside parliament now and from outside in future, that fracking and related technologies have a vital role to play in Falkirk’s and Scotland’s economic future.