Test Drilling keeps fracking debate alive and kicking

The Scottish Government has eventually bowed to internal and external pressure and put in place a moratorium on underground coal gasification (UCG) in Scotland.

This is separate to the existing moratorium on onshore unconventional oil and gas, including hydraulic fracturing – and comes as ministers have also informed Parliament that the Government will carry out a thorough and wide-ranging research process into the potential impacts of such onshore techniques.

Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Greens, said: “Today’s announcement shows that consistent pressure on ministers from Greens, campaigners, communities and even members of the SNP is working.”

Labour’s environment spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said: “For months now the SNP has faced the accusation of being two faced on fracking and unconventional gas by campaigning in elections on anti-fracking platforms whilst reassuring big business behind the scenes that Scotland would be open for business. They can’t have it both ways but it looks like they’re going to try to until at least after the 2016 election.”

The moratorium has been widely welcomed, including by Ineos, which has bought up extensive fracking rights across central Scotland: “Ineos also welcomes the understanding that science based evidence gathering will also involve the need for physical testing during the moratorium”. Their support is unsurprising, as they probably wouldn’t have got further than test drilling during the moratorium period anyway.

The Scottish Government had previously refused to say whether test drilling would be allowed. It has said it would require planning consents and must take place “in collaboration” with an independent academic body with research as the “key driver”. Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “If companies end up paying research bodies to take part in test drilling, that would raise questions about the validity of the moratorium.”

The test drilling announcement spurred on protestors who joined hands along the Forth Road Bridge on Sunday. Signs with messages such as Don’t Drill Our Land and “Dinnae dae it Nicola, it’s no worth it,” were held aloft at both ends of the bridge.

All of this will ensure that the tensions between ministers like Fergus Ewing who supports fracking, and others who can see the political damage, will continue.

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