After claiming they lacked the powers to deal with fracking, the Scottish Government has now come off the fence and blocked it in Scotland until further research is undertaken by them (cover, today). Who doubts that this research will be published shortly after the 2016 Holyrood election?
What this research will add to the debate is not entirely clear. Existing published work shows that even modest environmental regulation will mean that the problems faced in the USA will be easily avoided or render fracking non-viable.
The real challenge facing fracking in Scotland is that much of the reserves are within or near urban areas – much of them former mining towns and villages. Whilst the environment may be safe, fracking in these areas will come with significant disruption, particularly in the early stages of development.
If the Scottish Government does back fracking, and I feel it will, it must therefore ensure that local communities are convinced it is safe and also that they benefit directly.
Jim Murphy’s proposal for a local referendum appears to be ideally suited to this. It will force frackers to engage directly with communities by making binding environmental protection commitments and to support community projects. Such an approach would channel a fair share of the profits into some of Scotland’s most deprived areas.