Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser
You can’t read the papers or watch the news without some mention being made of fracking. Despite this many people are still unaware of what fracking entails. For those who don’t know, it is an onshore process of drilling through rock to extract gas and oil from areas where there are profitable deposits. It is a highly controversial process, which has been banned in some countries and states due to the risks to the people living in the vicinity where the fracking takes place. Water and chemicals are pumped in to the ground to force out the gas and oil deposits. The drilling process has been blamed for causing small earthquakes (two occurred in Blackpool in 2011), polluting the water supply and causing tumours and other health problems. The film Gasland which can be viewed on Youtube is an eye opening introduction for anyone interested in the subject.
In December 2013 the entirely unelected House of Lords took powers over some aspects of energy back from Scotland, paving the way for fracking licences to be granted, a process which begun in July 2014. On the 8th December the House of Commons voted on the Infrastructure Bill, part of which included giving private companies the right to carry out fracking underneath other peoples properties. What I found most shocking was that the Labour Party abstained from the final vote allowing the Tories and Lib Dems to pass this almost completely unopposed. I say almost, the SNP and Plaid Cymru did vote against it however without Labour support it was doomed to failure. Labour will bleat that they voted against parts of the bill earlier in the process but the records show that when the last vote took place NO Labour MP voted against it. I have no idea why. Our local MP Pamela Nash should be aware that Airdrie is within the zone where these licences are being handed out and should have voted against this for the good of the people of Airdrie and Shotts, even if it meant defying her party. That’s why she is elected is it not?
According to some sources Airdrie and indeed all of North Lanarkshire is in the ‘sweet spot’, a location likely to have a good yield and as such will attract companies looking to make a quick buck. I have to ask that if our local MPs in Airdrie and Coatbridge who are being paid to represent our safety do not stand up for our rights, then what is the likelihood that profit driven companies will? By the time the damage is done it is too late. You can’t unpollute the water table, you can’t extract pollutants and toxins from the open air. The people living in Airdrie town centre may shrug their shoulders and say it’s not going to affect me, they are hardly going to frack in Whinhall or Gartlea are they? That may be true but they will be fracking in the open land around Airdrie, next to the villages like Plains and Caldercruix, Salsburgh and Chapelhall, Greengairs and Glenmavis. For public health reasons in Australia fracking is not permitted within 2km of any inhabited dwelling. Most houses in Airdrie, if not all are less than 2km from areas which may be suitable for this to take place. Reach Oil and Gas already have permission to drill a methane extraction hole within Cumbernauld town boundary and are looking into further a development in Shotts. The new legislation which was approved in December allows companies to drill from the side under your property and carry out the work that way, so you could find that living next to a suitable site means living on top of one.
It would seem that our last hope in Scotland is the planning process which is controlled by North Lanarkshire Council. This extra hurdle is one which we need to ensure is high enough that it cannot be jumped. I am calling on all our elected representatives of all parties to back a petition to ensure that we follow Australia’s lead and do not allow the granting of permission for any fracking sites within 2km of any inhabited buildings. We elect our representatives to represent us
and regardless of what party they are from, our collective health and safety should come first.
I was almost open mouthed as I read Roger Smith’s viewpoint in the November issue of TGO. Roger stated that the referendum result was the best option as Scotland would have been out of the EU for 5 years and revenue streams would have been lost. I cannot disagree more. For starters the figure of 5 years has been plucked from thin air. Why not say 15 years and make it a complete whopper? What is a fact is that Scotland is a member of the EU, and had 18 months in which to negotiate membership to an organisation of which it is already a member and already compliant. Another fact that was ignored is that the EU has no means to remove EU citizenship from its citizens. It bust a gut to ensure that the bankrupt Greek economy was retained, the idea that it would throw an energy and resource rich Scotland out is laughable. The real threat to continued EU membership is now looming on the horizon, with an in/out EU referendum and a possible Blue Tory/UKIP alliance. What is possible is not a mere blip in funding, but a complete end to it. In any case the point is now moot and a distraction from what is to come.
Roger is mistaken when he states the environment was rarely mentioned. Perhaps in the mainstream media it wasn’t, but at the public meetings I attended it certainly was. The Yes campaign was consistent in its message of wanting a cleaner, greener, nuclear free Scotland. This may be one reason why the Green Party in Scotland have seen their membership rise by over 4000 since the referendum.
I personally am no fan of windfarms and the industrialisation of our wild places, and Roger is correct when he says that the SNP’s record in this area is far from impressive. The present Scottish Government were however being pushed in the right direction, and while the overall battle against onshore windfarms has been lost, there have been successes, and the Scottish Wild Land Core Map was one. How successful this will be remains to be seen, but this will become apparent soon enough. While having a pop at the SNP, Roger fails to address the other parties and their intentions. The Tories and the Lib-Dems both support “respectful fracking”, the Lib Dems and Labour support more wind turbines, and the Conservatives are vowing to scrap onshore windfarms in future while supporting them today. It seems to me that the alternatives are more of the same, or slightly worse. There is no radical alternative out there, unless of course you consider UKIP, and they are radical in all the wrong areas.
Roger also asserts that the Scottish Government is set to receive more powers, while in the same issue of TGO he writes about the problems and benefits of fracking. Roger should know then that in December 2013 the unelected House of Lords voted to remove the Scottish Parliament’s powers over renewables by way of amendment 54 to the Energy Act 2013. This gave the UK Government a free hand to completely bypass the Scottish Government. Ten months later and there also seems to be a free for all on licences for fracking, something the Scottish Government was categorically against. Even national parks have not been kept off the target list. Westminster has stuck two fingers up to the people of Scotland, and said that if our legislation is a stumbling block to the UK national policy then they shall scrap it. “The Lords giveth and the Lords taketh away” would sum up the powers we may receive.
Scotland’s natural resources should be in Scotland’s hands, and I doubt very much if the new powers Roger speaks of will come anywhere near fulfilling his wish list, as they seem to be more about backtracking than backpacking. In any case they may be overtaken by the Westminster elections next year. One thing is for certain, there will be no conclusion anytime soon.
Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser
This week Unionist politicians appeared in Glasgow to sign a pledge declaring that Scotland would be given more powers in the event of a No vote in the forthcoming referendum. One of the signatories was Nick Clegg who as many will recall, has form for signing pledges in public and acting differently when push comes to shove. It has already been stated by some Unionist politicians that the Scottish Parliament only operates because Westminster permits it to do so. They tell us what powers we can have, and what powers we cannot have. Sometimes they even sneak powers back under their own control.
In December 2013 the unelected House of Lords voted to remove the Scottish Parliament’s powers over renewable energy by way of amendment 54 to the Energy Act 2013. This gave the UK Government a free hand to completely bypass the Scottish Government and in July 2014 they announced a free for all on licences for fracking, something the Scottish Government was categorically against. Even our national parks weren’t kept off the target list. The Scottish Wild Land Core Map, which the Scottish Government had agreed to respect was bypassed at a stroke, and there isn’t a thing that can be done about it. While it was still to be seen if the Scottish Government would keep their word, there can be no doubt about what Westminster has done. It has stuck two fingers up to the people of Scotland, and said that if our legislation is a stumbling block to the UK national policy then they shall scrap it. We may have limited powers, so long as it suits Westminster, and when it no longer suits those powers will be taken back.
As someone who supports independence but opposes windfarms that concerns me greatly. With the Tories and the Lib-Dems both supporting “respectful fracking”, the Lib Dems and Labour supporting more wind turbines, and the Conservatives vowing to scrap onshore windfarms in future while supporting them today, it seems as clear as crystal that on examination there is absolutely no likelihood that a No vote in the independence referendum or a change of Scottish Government from the SNP with end the industrialisation of our wild places. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” is the order of the day where renewables is concerned.
I truly believe that the battle against windfarms has been lost. There are no doubt victories still to be had. Small windfarms with a good amount of reasonable objection, grounded in fact, can be defeated. I know this, because I have helped defeat such developments. But the larger developments, and these are generally the ones which occupy larger areas, are harder nuts to crack, and due to the sheer amount of money involved are likely to succeed. Should Scotland vote No in the forthcoming referendum it will be a signal to Westminster, not for more powers for Scotland, but to draw more power from Scotland. The National Planning Act which applies to England and Wales could quite easily be extended to cover Scotland. If we currently have any safeguards in Scotland against development they can be removed by Westminster to fall in line with those south of the border, and which will make a presumption in favour of large developments which are deemed in the national interest, the HS2 rail link being a case in point. Our own system is by no means perfect, but at least we had some mechanisms of protest, if not prevention. We need to protect this system just as strongly as we would like the wild land itself to be protected, and that will not be be done within a union that cannot be trusted to keep it’s word on which powers it permits us to have.