Maureen’s Matters - Considering the issue carefully

Although the North-east has long experienced the benefits gained from gas extraction, the process of fracking is dividing opinions north and south of the border.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has elicited a very different response from both the Westminster and the Scottish Governments. North of the border, the Scottish Government is still considering the issue carefully, and ensuring that an evidence-based approach takes into account environmental concerns and the views of local communities.

This could not be more different to the gung-ho UK government, which has decided to allow drilling under people’s homes without any right of objection.

The Scottish Government remains completely opposed to this decision, and last Monday SNP MPs sought to block the UK Government plans that don’t take owner’s consent into account.

In the Westminster debate on the Infrastructure Bill on Monday, which included the fracking proposals, SNP MPs voted against the bill going any further. The SNP and Plaid Cymru put forward an amendment which sought to block the plans to allow fracking companies to drill under land without the consent of owners, but the amendment was not chosen for debate.

In a significant move, Labour didn’t even vote on the progression of the bill. Subsequently, the bill went forward to the next stage.

Currently, the power over licencing of companies to frack lies with Westminster. However, one of the Smith Commission’s proposals is to devolve this power to Holyrood, and put the decision on fracking into the hands of those that live in Scotland.

There are grey areas as to how the process will affect Scotland, and the North-east. The Scottish Parliament does have legislative control over planning and environmental measures, but it is not clear how they mesh with powers retained by the UK Government to grant licences under the Petroleum Act. The law of property in Scotland is devolved, but clauses in the infrastructure bill cut across property rights of landowners.

To add insult to injury, the UK government is proposing a sovereign wealth fund for areas for this gas extraction, while Scotland has never been granted this, despite billions of pounds sent to the UK Treasury from North Sea Oil and Gas.

The jury on fracking is currently out, but it is vitally important that those that live in Scotland are the ones who make the decision.