Fergus Ewing, Scottish Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, and SNP member, told delegates at the IJGlobal European Renewable Energy Investors Forum that the SNP would improve UK renewables, but would not rule out the exploration of Scottish shale resources.
Mr Ewing opened the two-day director level conference at the Old Course Hotel in Scotland with an address to delegates outlining the Scottish government’s priorities for domestic electricity supply.
The Minister told members of the renewable energy and project finance industries that the SNP would seek to work with Westminster were it to form a coalition with a UK party post-election.
Ewing also said Scotland had not ruled out a shale gas industry in the country.
The Scottish government imposed a moratorium on shale gas planning permits in the country in January this year, and the SNP has previously voted for a UK-wide moratorium.
However Ewing told delegates at the event that the party does not support an indefinite ban. Instead “we need a national debate,” he said.
“It’s wrong for us to proceed other than on the basis of evidence, and we lack that.” In contrast, the rest of the UK has a “gung-ho” attitude to shale gas exploration, he said.
In January, the Scottish Government imposed a moratorium on fracking, which means that no shale gas licences will be granted until the moratorium is lifted. An earlier attempt by The Green Party to impose a total ban on shale exploration last May was rejected by Holyrood.
At the time, Fergus Ewing told the Scottish Parliament that the moratorium would allow for a full public consultation on the controversial drilling technique, and to commission a full public health impact assessment.
He expressed the same belief during a BBC One programme, The War over Fracking, broadcast yesterday.
When asked about fracking for underground shale gas Ewing said: “We should have a national debate about the topic, especially since we are to acquire, we hope, powers in respect of the unconventional oil and gas issue before very long.
“So this is the right time to have a national debate informed by evidence.”
The minister was then asked: “If the Scottish public clearly says it doesn’t want this, will that be enough for you to introduce a permanent ban?”
Mr Ewing replied: “Well, let’s see what the debate comprises. I don’t want to prejudge that debate,” adding: “People will come to their own conclusions, perhaps using that great tool that Scotland bequeathed in the enlightenment to the world – rational analysis.”
Also featured in the program, INEOS director, Tom Crotty, said that his understanding is that the Scottish Government imposed the moratorium on fracking “to take a breather while we gather information”. He told the BBC: “That’s a great thing, and we’re completely committed to that. So at the moment it’s not frustrating. If it went on and on, it would be very frustrating.”
This shows INEOS in much better spirits when it comes to its future in Scotland than when the moratorium was first announced. At the time, Gary Haywood, the chairman of Ineos Upstream, said that the moratorium on fracking in Scotland may make the future of the Grangemouth chemical plant “very difficult”.
In November 2014, INEOS announced an investment of £640 million in British shale gas exploration; a move that put it on the road to becoming the biggest shale company in the UK. Following the imposition of the moratorium, INEOS launched a community consultation process to try to win support for the controversial technique.
Mr Ewing’s declaration of open-mindedness towards shale exploration enraged environmentalists.
“This betrays what Fergus Ewing really thinks – that fracking is the future,” Ed Pybus from the campaign group, Frack Off Scotland told The National.
“His moratorium is nothing more than political posturing – a temporary fix to help get the SNP through the next two elections. And, if Ewing has his way, it will then be abandoned, and companies will start drilling.”
Pybus adds: “The SNP leadership should now be questioning whether they want such a fracking fan at the heart of a progressive, environmentally responsible government.”
Also speaking to The National, Bill Frew, who chairs a broad alliance of concerned community groups from across Scotland, said that Mr Ewing’s message may have revealed the true face of the SNP. “If the Energy Minister’s comments reflect current Scottish Government thinking, then the SNP honeymoon period may be over very soon,” he said.
“Thousands of local people who have become engaged in the political future of their communities and their country will be justifiably outraged if the SNP proposes to stand back and allow huge swathes of Scotland to be turned into a giant gasfield, while the main beneficiaries are major landowners and non-doms.”
The fear is the SNP government is preparing to “sell out to developers”, Frew argued. “People will have even more cause to be angry when they realise that the longer-term risks to them, their families and the local environment are ignored or brushed aside.”
The Scottish Green Party’s co-convener and MSP, Patrick Harvie said: “Not only is the SNP’s Energy Minister still talking about this dangerous industry as an opportunity, but he appears to be suggesting it will eventually take place.
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