A Wee Tremor

God, but the air smelled fresh on Great Western Road this morning – yesterday it was one of the UK’s most polluted streets. Now today we’ve banned fracking we can relax in our green, carbon-free, energy-rich garden city. The sun is out, the flowers in bloom and there’s a sparkle about our new, bolder parliament. No more dirty fuel sources, no more fossil reserves plundered, no more playing up to corrupt billionaires ready to let our homes disappear into sink holes the size of Falkirk.

I think that’s what happened. Labour has always been against dirty and dangerous fuel sources, hasn’t it? They agreed the mines should be shut during the miners’ strike, I think. Or was it them who abstained in Westminster when a fracking moratorium came up…anyway they’ve always been steadfastly opposed to nuclear too, yeah?

The naked opportunism and hypocrisy of Labour who have now surrendered any notion of sensible economic planning or even adroit government tactics, shows where they now are – desperate to make an impression, any impression, whatever the cost to the nation.

I don’t like fracking and strongly suspect it is the wrong way for Scotland to go. But I don’t know if that’s correct because I haven’t seen anything yet except one-sided propaganda from groups who hijacked the issue when it was barely in the public domain and mounted a successful demonisation campaign. The hair-raising Project Fear effort started at a time when I doubt if 99.9 per cent of the British public had even heard of fracking let alone understood what it was.

Almost everything I’ve seen so far is based on the impact on other countries which is fair as far as it goes but tells us next to nothing about what effect it might have on the geology of Scotland under a strict regulatory regime learning from early mistakes elsewhere. That’s why there is a moratorium and a two-year period in which evidence can be gleaned, consultations held and educated decisions made.

MSPs are perfectly entitled to make up their minds in advance and base their views on their own research but there is a national interest at stake here which demands a responsible and transparent official approach – both to convince the Scots and the drilling companies. A formal process has been instigated in order to examine the case for and against which should be allowed to take its course and provide a definitive response. Instead, in a rush of political adrenaline, the opposition wants to prove its credentials by ‘piling pressure’ on the SNP. To do what? Iain Gray tweeted with the question: Will they plough on regardless? (of the vote). Does he mean plough on with a moratorium which prohibits fracking? Duh…

There is a hothead reaction of course demanding to know why the SNP didn’t vote for an outright ban. Some even said they should defy the courts! Sometimes you have to gather your marbles before you respond to some of these voices. Reasons why the SNP didn’t, include:

There is already a moratorium in place (that prevents fracking).

They are collecting evidence. Voting against at this stage would be a sure sign of bias in whatever decision they eventually make, shaking public faith.

The collection of evidence could be made harder if respondents believe the government already has a position on fracking.

If they eventually decide to say No to all fracking the companies denied licences will have a stronger legal case to take to court – it would be a clear demonstration of prejudice against their companies’ interests.

It would increase the chances of losing a legal case which would be costly, embarrassing for Scotland and wouldn’t stop the fracking going ahead.

But against that the collected opposition could feel really pleased with themselves.

MSPs should play the political game as best they can and make what headway they are able to but what they can’t do is demand the party of government plays the game with them. The difference between the two sides is that one has executive responsibility and the other has none.

I hope the research shows fracking would be unsafe for our environment and that the government goes ahead to ban it. But I will still be uncomfortable about it because fracked gas will still be imported from the USA and used in Scotland. Eventually, it is likely fracked gas will be imported from England for use in Scotland (so we don’t get out of the environmental hole). A ban gives two fingers to the workforce at Grangemouth, all 1400 of them and 2000 contractors, who will wonder if their government is sane in saying No to a new boom industry.

Today Scottish unemployment is at a record high. Our economy has been buffeted by the oil price crash (as Labour never stop telling us).

I guess we must be fortunate indeed if we can afford to turn down a new industry offering jobs and money for some pretty bleak communities in Central Scotland. I think before you tell people in Plean, Fallin or Airth that there will be no economic boom for them, you need to present a convincing case. That, I believe, is what the government is doing, not helped in this case by opposition grandstanding.

Here’s a question: if we were discovering oil today instead of gas, would the same MSPs vote against extracting it? After all, it’s fossil fuel, a dirty and dangerous business, it costs lives and wrecks the environment. Didn’t the Liberals who voted for a gas ban yesterday threaten to keep the Shetland oil industry for themselves if Scots voted for independence?

Would MSPs vote against coal mining today on the same basis?

And why, if you’re Labour or Lib Dem, do you want an outright ban on fracking if you support nuclear power? Are you suggesting fracking is more dangerous than nuclear? Seriously?

This has all the hallmarks of gesture politics – like putting up taxes even if it loses money. When a ban comes we have to hope the SNP remains sensible and does it properly without the parliamentary theatrics.

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34 thoughts on “A Wee Tremor

  1. Dave McEwan Hill

    Well said, Derek

  2. At last some sanity

  3. Proud Cybernat

    A voice of reason at last. Nice one, Mr. Bateman.

  4. Not for me I am afraid. I prefer my water table as it is. If fracking does eventually get the go-ahead you can bet your sweet bippy that it won’t be you and I who are gaining from it.

  5. One for the tribalists!

  6. Steve Asaneilean

    It’s hard to know how, at this stage at least, the average person or politician who isn’t a geologist or engineer can have a truly valid opinion of the risk/benefits of fracking in Scotland.

    Yesterday’s move in the Scottish Parliament was political grandstanding of the worst kind – pathetic, childish, devoid of the full facts, and, as you say Derek, downright hypocrisy.

    Those who voted in favour yesterday should also be calling for an immediate ban on drilling for oil, importing hydrocarbons from elsewhere, open cast mining for hydrocarbons, and the internal combustion engine.

    But they won’t will they?

    The evidence should be collected and a decision should be based on that rather that what effectively amounts to a lynch mob mentality.

    And the ultimate decision should be left to those communities in place like Fife, Lothian, Clackmannanshire, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire or whatever that are going to be directly affected by any fracking development.

    • The decision should not be left to local communities. The land and the atmosphere that the carbon will be released into belongs to all of us.

      • Steve Asaneilean

        I don’t necessarily disagree – but I was thinking of local communities more in terms of veto.

        • It’s not necessarily correct to assume they will veto it. Some communities might be bought off with ‘community benefits’ from the frackers.

    • “It’s hard to know how, at this stage at least, the average person or politician who isn’t a geologist or engineer can have a truly valid opinion of the risk/benefits of fracking in Scotland”.

      Very true. However as I recall from memory, and not “environmental damage” per se; but, in one instance in Canada I’m aware of: The fracking company totally damaged a brand new highway constructed to last 20 years was within 5 years, requiring it to be replaced. Had that company been required to “make good” any damage to the infrastructure; and perhaps with insurance should they become bankrupt, it is doubtful they would have “fracked” in that area… or so the documentary concluded. All the so called financial benefits to the community were lost and exceeded in the clean-up after they left.

      Personally, I’m against fracking. Would not trust the same experts that tell us nuclear is safe. But if the bar is set so high that they would not dare, I’d be happy to allow it. Including finding the company managers criminally responsible with an equally low burden of proof… or as an idea with similar to that effect.

      • Steve Asaneilean

        My problem is that I don’t have enough objective information to say yes or no.

        It’s not that I haven’t heard or read anything – I have heard and read tons – but what I have heard and read from both sides of the debate amounts to little more than propaganda – never a good basis on which to make an important decision.

        I can understand that the Green party want a total ban – that simply reflects their origins in the environmental movement.

        But (Not) Labour’s breathtaking hypocrisy and opportunism is another matter when only a matter of weeks ago they were haranguing Scottish Government for not doing enough to support another polluting and potentially environmentally destructive hydrocarbon industry in the form of the North Sea oil sector.

        Something about having your cake and eating it springs to mind.

        • Yes mate, I would just rather they had to convince an insurance company with their hunger lust rather than corrupable politicians and copper bottom their clean-up guarantees with an insurance premium for the same.

          Not really an unreasonable ask 😉

          It would be the ultimate belief in the safety of their activity, one they could hardly argue against. One error would be the equivelent of a convicted drunk driver trying to get insurance in the future.

        • Steve Asaneilan but there’s ‘ breath taking hypocrisy and opportunism ‘ and for years just being used to the public accepting things, especially pre Internet.
          Look up L Dick ( farmer) FAUG . Falkirk against unconventional gas.
          This mans precognition statement explains when DART a came a calling, due to pressure ( despite engaging a QC) he was put in a position of having to sell off parcels of his land for ‘ exploration’.
          Anyone driving along could see Falkirk Councils( Labour) logic or as you put it breath taking hypocrisy and opportunism.
          At one end of the road ‘ exploration ‘ and at the other wind farms.
          Unconventional gas was the mantra not fracking- well the slippery slope starts somewhere, especially with the UK Govt issuing licenses.
          It’s not evidence I grant you but I believe they can drill down then along for quite a distance, well besides the old mines , besides the fact Longannet is within view , you also have Grangemouth looking like Springfield on a dark night . ‘ A wee tremor ‘Derek ?

  7. Well said , a balanced and insightful article . Let’s leave the stuff in the ground , it’s not going to go off and future generations can make use of it if they feel the pros and cons stack up in favour of tracking .

  8. 1) I thought there was enough gas coming ashore now at Sullom Voe for all Scotland’s needs
    2) The areas being touted for fracking licences seem to be right over the central belt: locations riddled with disused coal mines. Also where 60% of population resides.
    Don’t know if relevant or not.

  9. Send that to Labour Hame to Batethem Derek

  10. This from the UK Gov on Regulation & Best Practice: “What is the UK’s approach to regulation?
    The UK has a goal-setting approach to regulation that requires operators to ensure and demonstrate to regulators that the risks of an incident relating to oil and gas operations are reduced to ‘as low as reasonably practicable’. This encourages operators to move beyond minimum standards in a continuous effort for improvement.”

    “As low as reasonably practicable” – no wiggle room there then!!

  11. I don’t believe for a second Labour want to ban fracking, it’s an amateurish political ploy to push the agenda FOR fracking more like
    Their hopes, I think are that it squeezes the SNP between a rock and a hard place which of course it doesn’t as long as the Government stick to their guns they’re completely covered
    As usual Labour treat the Scottish people as if they’re all stupid and have the memories of goldfish
    They would do better to check their own voter numbers to realise those people are a dwindling resource

  12. As you say, grandstanding. There is nothing that they can do about it, being in opposition. And were they to ever be the party of government, we know they would not implement anything radical anyway; so this is a phoney war.

    But I thought it was interesting the way Scottish politics is now shaping up. Labour and LibDems are trying to outflank the SNP on the left. This is not happening in England. So it contributes to a different political culture emerging north of the border, and that is a Good Thing, ultimately, if you believe in independence. I was wondering which way they were going to jump. The Tories of course voted against the motion and the SNP abstained, since their moratorium does the trick without any of the legal hazards that you mention.

    It IS funny though, that the official Tory opposition’s voting against the Labour motion, received no press coverage at all.

    I wonder why that would be? The Tories are of course in favour of fracking.

  13. Had they only been so brave over GM when they were in coalition with the motorbike ashtrays when they formed the executive. Particularly when the EU insulated the GM industry from liability from any potential environmental catastrophie I might have had sympathy with their hippy-stoned-LSD rationale. But as Derek points out, they have no track record on environmental causes other than SNP baahd. Oh, but hang on… genetically programmed is a quality we Scots lack… who knew?

  14. Just out of interest, just how many jobs does fracking bring with it, I’m thinking not many other than the initial development, so when the rigs are up and running I cant see many people needed to look after them, so what gain would we actually make from them other than giving Osborn yet another reason to hold on to Scotland (as if there weren’t enough reasons now) when the revenues all flow south.
    So we get the pollution, they get the money, as it ever was.

  15. Agreed, but once again it’s how the M.S.M portray this load of claptrap. They are our real enemy, not the bunch of shysters masquerading as people who have Scotland’s best interests at heart, when as we all know, they denied us the right to be able to make all the decisions about our country’s future right here.

    • “But I don’t know if that’s correct because I haven’t seen anything yet except one-sided propaganda from groups who hijacked the issue when it was barely in the public domain and mounted a successful demonisation campaign. The hair-raising Project Fear effort started at a time when I doubt if 99.9 per cent of the British public had even heard of fracking let alone understood what it was.”

      I don’t think they hijacked anything. The just did what people like us do online. You run a one-sided propaganda machine yourself on this blog. We need the Internet to share information like this because we don’t get the truth from the mainstream media. You can be sure that if there is a capitalist bob or two to be made from fracking then old Rupert and his ilk will make darned sure that the truth about any risk will not be found in his red tops.

      The people who demonised fracking did so precisely because 99.9 percent of the British public did not know what it was. They took it upon themselves to tell the 99.9 percent what they knew about it. That’s how activists on the Internet can now make their mark. It was and is a Project Fear effort and in this occasion I think we need to be afraid.

      You may disagree Derek but I think there is sufficient evidence available from other countries to show that fracking be catastrophically harmful to the environment. We don’t have it now and we don’t need it. The risks are too high.

  16. Good piece Derek. I’m leaning against fracking at present but ooen to persuasion. I found the PBS documentary ‘Fracking: Shattered Ground’ to be a seemingly balanced examination of the issue.

  17. On the nail again Derek.

    See that political game you mention though? Don’t know about anyone else, but I’m fair sick to the stomach with it. I’m fed up with policy wonk semantics, parliamentary privilege, zero accountability (except at the ballot). Mortally tired of being lied to, manipulated, treated like an imbecile and otherwise abused by people playing ‘games’.

    They play these games to win power to no end except their own. Its not for the benefit of the population in general and barely even for their own constituents. They play these games for their parties and personal interests. The control of the powers and the resources becoming the be all and end all. That’s the prize, the gold medal, the trophy. Any tactic deemed acceptable, any strategy, ruse or fib. Collateral damage amongst the populace not a concern seein’ as how they have a media to calm the troublesome waters in the aftermath or twist their screw ups during.

    Personally, I really don’t care what they say anymore, or indeed how they sell it. I go from the starting point that it is a self seeking ploy and work my way downwards from there. The unionist parties and the mainstream media have come to represent everything that is catastrophically ethically and morally wrong with our system of government. Their actions literally cause harm to people.

    Games… no, not really.

  18. I am an oil & gas reservoir engineer. That’s a cross between a geologist and an engineer, figuring out how best to get oil & gas out the ground. I’ve studied fracking academically at Masters degree level, and my previous employer ( though not me personally) was involved in planning it.
    I’ve also recently moved back to my roots in civil engineering because of the oil downturn.
    I’m only saying this to show why I think (1) I’ve got a pretty good idea what I’m talking about, and (2) I don’t have a vested interest.

    I’m absolutely convinced that shale has extraction, which includes the use of hydraulic fracking, would be of great benefit to the economy, & that it can be done safely if suitably regulated (Happy to expand if asked, but it could be a long post!). As industrial processes go, it’s relatively benign, and – given good regulation – I’d have no problem of it were done under my house. The only issue it’s that the drilling of wells is a big noisy ugly industrial process so would have be kept out of the way.

    Its worth adding that in Scotland we almost never use aquifer water for drinking, other than a little in the South West, and maybe around Newtonmore (not sure about that last). Easily avoided anyway.

    I’d hate to see all the economic benefit of this industry going down South – it’d be one missed opportunity we couldn’t lay at Westminster’s door.

  19. “Are you suggesting fracking is more dangerous than nuclear?”

    That nuclear is a bogeyman can’t be denied, but its status simply isn’t backed up by the facts. Empirically, almost all methods of energy extraction/conversion are more dangerous than nuclear.

    I’m not sure if there’s enough data out there yet regarding fracking, but there’s no reason to believe the casualty patterns related to extraction will be significantly dissimilar to conventional onshore oil/gas extraction, plus there is some really solid evidence coming out now regarding the massive population-level respiratory effects caused by burning hydrocarbons.

  20. Gavin.C.Barrie

    To quote Broadbield – “risks of an incident as low as reasonably practical”. And so to the Acid test – in the event of an incident – Can You Halt It? Is the consequent contamination irreversible?

    Pressure vessels have pressure relief valves should over- pressure arise; buildings have sprinkler systems to fight fire; your domestic electrical supply has fuses, or trips. Each of these are enclosed finite systems.

    Injected fluids to the sub-terrain is not a finite enclosed system,fluids will find their means to de-pressurise into the surrounding structures, by let’s say, seepage. Fracking isn’t a system of sub-terrain pipework with shut-off valves. So whilst an “incident” may never occur, seepage contamination is likely?

    If during the course of fracking – the clue is in the term, fracturing – an earth tremor occurs, what are the safety systems. Can the fracking installation sub-terrain ensure that there is no leakage of injected fluids? Is there a leakage detection facility. A sub-terrain leakage containment facility?

    Can we be assured that whilst in the regular course of operation of injecting chemicals there can be no leakage to the surrounding sub-terrain structure and water table? What would be the time elapse from detecting a leakage to shutdown and containment? What quantity of fluids would be injected during this time elapse?

    If I’m wrong with the above, please explain and re-assure.

  21. You are incorrect about the relative safety of fracking versus nuclear and it all depends on which risks you place most importance on. view it globally and co2 is the bigger risk to all mankind.
    Locally nuclear ‘might’ be the bigger risk but that depends on which type of nuclear.

    There is recognition in some of the newest designs that pressurised reactors are not inherently failsafe and no matter what controls you put in place, you’ll have a risk. Now nuclear could be much better if we considered thorium fuel or other designs.

    It’s not well known by the general public but most of what is known as nuclear waste is actually unburnt fuel that is currently wasted – hence fast breeder research.

  22. “I haven’t seen anything yet except one-sided propaganda from groups who hijacked the issue when it was barely in the public domain and mounted a successful demonisation campaign.”

    Now, just saying, consider the same statement in the context of genetically modified crops.

    Almost everything said about recombinant DNA technology as it applies to crops is demonstrable balderdash, but there’s absolutely no telling the people who have learned to hate and fear the very letters “GM”. A scientific advance with the potential to do enormous good in the world has been hijacked as a stick to beat certain unpopular multinational companies with. It’s not far removed from the hypothetical situation where we decide to ban vaccination because some people believe against all evidence that vaccines cause autism, and some companies are manufacturing them for profit. And if you think that’s fanciful, look at some of the outpourings of the anti-vaccine loons and recognise that the outpourings of the anti-Monsanto brigade aren’t noticeably more evidence-based.

    But we’ve banned an entire branch of biotechnology, in Scotland, as a bloody marketing initiative, because the groups demonising it hijacked the issue at an early stage and turned politicians and the public against science.

    Now I’m with Derek here. I don’t like the sound of fracking either. But at the same time I recognise that the objections ported from other geologies may not be applicable to Scotland. Also, lessons can be learned. Mainly, I think that even if extracting this hydrocarbon reserve is relatively safe, we should be leaving it in the ground. We should be promoting renewables, not sucking the last drop of fossil fuels out of the land in the early 21st century. Why not leave this for future generations, who may need it when other sources are becoming exhausted, and who may find innovative and more efficient ways of getting it?

    But hey, a government which can ban an entire branch of biotechnology on a whim is probably going to get its way on fracking as well, and in this case I won’t be sorry about it.

  23. Bill Halliday

    Been involved at with “Drilling” and “Oil/Gas Companies” for 36 years. Their whole ethos is one of “what’s the minimum we can get away with” and “Oh shit, did anyoner see, will we get found out”? The world, includimng the North Sea, Irish Sea and Atlantic is layered in their mistakes, accidental and deliberate and they start the process of escaping from “return to natural state commitments” decades before it will cost them anything.
    Sadly this means that even strict legislation biased in favour of the complainer affected by one of the Energy/Drilling Company mistakes will be worthless.
    Unless you have been there and seen it, you have no idea.

    • Yes, you are of course correct Bill.

      That’s why the MOD leaks radioactive material into the Gareloch. That’s also why companies all over the UK often ignore emission levels until they are collared. Capitalism has no respect for the environment despite any assurances that are given.

  24. The choice of Plean, Fallin and Airth is strange because they are in a former coal mining area. Coal-bed methane is being extracted at Airth, so it should already be prospering. But is it? And, if not, why not? The other technique available in this area is Underground Coal Gasification, not Fracking.

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