SMAUG seeks to slay SNP support for fracking

The prize for best campaign acronym must surely go to the SNP anti-fracking pressure group SMAUG.

The new group, SNP Members Against Unconventional Oil and Gas (SMAUG), has been set up with a view to persuading the party leadership to take a tougher stance on the issue. It is calling for Underground Coal Gasification [UCG], a technique which sees coal set alight under the sea bed, to be included in a Scottish Government moratorium before May's Holyrood election and said its longer term aim was securing an outright ban on all unconventional fuel extraction methods, which it believes are incompatible with tackling climate change.

Today's Herald reports that the SNP Government has blocked the full release of an account of a meeting between Nicola Sturgeon and Ineos chief Jim Ratcliffe, which took place while ministers called a temporary halt to fracking. In a lengthy submission to parliament on January 28 to announce the moratorium, the SNP energy minister Fergus Ewing made no mention that Ms Sturgeon was meeting with Scotland's leading champion of fracking at the same time. Mr Ratcliffe has since said he has received private assurances that the Scottish Government is not against fracking, despite the SNP presenting itself as opposed to the technique during the general election campaign.

A UK task force, funded by the fracking industry, has concluded that fracking for shale gas in the UK should be pursued as an alternative to the use of coal, in order to provide a bridge to a low-carbon future.

It also says shale gas should not receive public subsidy or tax breaks, and the tax revenues arising from its exploitation should be redeployed to develop renewable energy and other low-carbon innovations. Lord Smith, chair of the taskforce said:

“I can’t see any reason why the shale industry needs tax breaks. If the gas is there and is recoverable – and that’s still a big ‘if’ – the industry can derive revenue from extracting it. Shale gas is not the answer to climate change. That is a mixture of renewables, nuclear and energy efficiency and other low-carbon sources of energy. But we can’t simply wave a magic wand and say that will happen tomorrow. Shale gas provides a bridge.”

Lord Smith was also critical of the delays in developing CCS, “The government must get a move on, I don’t think the reason for the slowness lies in problems with the technology. It is a lack of political will”.

The taskforce view is contested by environmental groups. Tony Bosworth, at Friends of the Earth, said:

“Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Fracking in the UK would just add to this unburnable carbon, while also bringing risks for the environment and health of local communities. The taskforce doesn’t say if or how we will get others to produce less gas if we start fracking.”

The credibility of any taskforce funded by the fracking industry is always going to be questionable, as an experienced politician like Chris Smith should realise. The bridging argument is perhaps the best argument yet deployed to justify fracking, but it is unlikely to convince the communities impacted by drilling. And certainly not those urging stronger action to tackle climate change.


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