Absolutely. I think that all of us who represent Scottish constituencies are pleased by the much more cautious, evidence-based approach that the Scottish Government have been taking to this, and I would hope that the UK Government could learn from their example.
Perhaps a more thorough regulatory regime will reduce the likelihood of some of the worst public health and safety hazards that we have seen in the States and elsewhere, but frankly I would not trust this Government to ensure that the checks and balances were robust enough, and the rewards are simply not worth the risk. I hope that care will be taken to properly address the public concerns that have been expressed across England, but listening to people is not a great strength of this Government. Instead, the UK Government seem intent on slashing red tape and fast-tracking fracking through the planning process, bypassing local democracy and those pesky protestors who get in the way of things. I do not have a lot of faith in the Government to put public interest before that of big business.
Even if it were established that fracking could be done safely, and even if the considerable environmental impacts of the process could somehow be removed, no amount of regulation would prevent it from being a fresh new source of greenhouse gas emissions, and that is really not the way to go. One can disregard the evidence on climate change, deny its existence, look the other way and whistle a happy tune but, like all destructive diseases, the longer it is left, the harder it becomes to fight. Climate change is the biggest man-made crisis facing this planet—far bigger, even, than the bourach known as Brexit. The schoolchildren who took to the streets calling for action are right, and they deserve to be listened to. They are fed up with politicians carrying on as normal—people who are stuck in the past, but who have the power to rob them of their futures.
It is undeniable that we have a long way to go to move away from our reliance on oil and gas, both economically and in our lifestyle choices. Offshore gas will still play a role in the UK’s energy mix for the foreseeable future, and I recognise the continued importance of the jobs that are currently dependent on the industry. However, Governments must pull together internationally to tackle climate change, and that will require us to move on from our fossil fuel dependence, not embrace new forms. Diving headfirst into onshore fracking explorations is completely the wrong direction for energy policy.
The good news, however, is that we do not need desperately to seek more gas under people’s homes in order to keep on the lights. We have the onshore and offshore renewable technologies needed to establish a successful and sustainable energy industry. Scotland is leading the world in marine renewable energy and is lucky to have a highly skilled workforce to deploy and the wind and the waves to be harnessed. With a quarter of Europe’s tidal and offshore wind resources and 10% of its wave potential, this is where the unwavering focus for Government support should be.
Powers to issue and manage onshore oil and gas licences is devolved, and the debate over fracking takes on a different flavour at Holyrood, where a majority opposes progressing fracking and underground coal gasification developments. The Scottish Government have conducted extensive research and continue to engage widely with the public on the issue. After more than 60,000 responses, 99% were opposed to fracking. My constituents in Edinburgh North and Leith are not known to be shy of an opinion, and they have told me how appalled they are at the thought of unconventional gas exploitation damaging our local shores, and I agree. I welcome the Scottish Government’s cautious, evidence-led and transparent approach to policy on this issue. I urge the Minister to do the same and to put an end to this damaging dash for gas.