Fracking. Few words cause the same levels of division in the UK today. The issue of using hydraulic fracking for unconventional oil and gas recovery in the UK divides communities and stirs up emotions far and wide. Last week the Scottish Parliament voted to outright ‘ban’ fracking, although the Scottish Nationalist Party chose to abstain the vote. Whether or not this non-binding ban will be implemented is another story for another day, however, is fracking really the way forward, or should it be banned?
Governments worldwide are repeatedly stressing the dangers of climate change, induced by human emissions. The degree of unity amongst the scientific community on the issue of climate change is unprecedented and should be a strong signal – mankind is altering the planet’s very climate. At the Paris summit on climate change, the message from the world’s leader was crystal clear: we must reduce our dependency on hydrocarbons to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the issue of fracking has more than just a slight whiff of hypocrisy surrounding it. This is also where our opposition to it is found
Many of the opponents of fracking are citing environmental concerns as their main reason for opposition. Fears about polluted groundwater, leaks from hydraulic wells and even fracking-induced earthquakes are plentiful. The economic impact, on the other hand, has been tremendous in the US, where the energy sector has been completely revolutionised. David Cameron, who supports fracking, once said:
‘I want us to get on board this change that is doing so much good and bringing so much benefit to North America. I want us to benefit from it here as well’
Whilst it is true that in the short term unconventional oil and gas exploration would bring many jobs to the North of England and Scotland as well as positive economic impacts, the question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not it is a sustainable development. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Fracking represents a desperate measure to try and extract the last quantities of oil. Yes, energy bills might well go down, a development that we in principle would welcome. On the other hand, lowering the energy bills on the back of continuous CO2 emissions with its long-term economic havoc that climate change might bring is not the way forward. Most environmental concerns can, of course, be addressed by innovative engineering, but it would also mean a distraction from the true challenge ahead – decarbonising the economy.
The UK government is, therefore, guilty of some fairly noteworthy hypocrisy on the issue. On the one hand, David Cameron and the government proudly declare their desire to be ‘the greenest government ever’ whilst on the other hand supporting fracking which undermines these efforts. That said, however, the SNP government’s increasingly ambiguous stance on fracking, alongside claims that the government is preparing a u-turn, might contain similar hypocrisy. The Scottish government has time and time again branded itself as one of the most environmentally-friendly governments in Europe. It is high time for the Scottish government to declare its hand on fracking and prove whether they are as radical as they like to claim.