In a striking display of scientific illiteracy and political pandering, Scottish Environment and Climate Change Minister Paul Wheelhouse has indicated that hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, will not be allowed in Scotland.
Speaking to the press on the Scottish fracking debate, Wheelhouse is reported to have claimed that there are “no environmental permissions which would allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Scotland at this time”
Apparently, here in Scotland, the Holyrood government’s policy is to regard everything as banned until proven otherwise. Beyond the blatantly authoritarian mindset that underpins that principle, it is worth considering the Environment and Climate Change Minister’s comments in the context of contemporary politics in this country, as well as in the context of the broader energy debate.
It is no secret that the Government in London are pro-fracking, and have made efforts to facilitate its rapid spread throughout the UK’s depleted fossil fuel wells, the bulk of which are located in the north of England and the floor of the North Sea. Now that the debate over Scottish independence is beginning to slide in favour of continued union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, Scotland’s status as the main producer of British fossil fuels is being politicised more than ever. Since hydraulic fracturing is used primarily to access shale gas, and not oil, Holyrood’s opposition to the practise could not be more convenient.
Banning fracking is no great sacrifice for the Scottish government or for the country’s energy economy, since Scotland is primarily an oil producer, not a gas producer. Had Mr. Wheelhouse instead proclaimed that there is no environmental permission which would allow more North Sea oil drilling in Scotland, we might plausibly believe his intent was to protect the environment. Instead, he has revealed the woefully self-serving and hypocritical approach of the Scottish National Party to the environment, where MSPs are willing to protest and obstruct the rest of the country’s contribution to climate change, but will vehemently protest any attempt to curb their own massive petrochemical industry.
While there are precious few sound scientific reasons to oppose the practise of hydraulic fracturing, it is not too much to ask that the Holyrood parliament at least be consistent. Environmental activists in Scotland are sure to note the hypocrisy of the government’s reliance on the country’s oil reserves to demonstrate the viability of independence, and their simultaneous hand-waving and sensational reaction to the issue of fracking. When the debate over independence comes to a vote next year, Holyrood should not count on support from environmentalists, no matter what kind of small boost they may get now. Either Scotland is a petro-state or it isn’t, and no matter what Holyrood says, Scottish voters are smart enough spot the difference.