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Is the Scottish ban on fracking as good as it seems?

ByHarley Griffiths

Oct 11, 2017

The Scottish government indefinitely extended a moratorium to effectively ban fracking in Scotland. The moratorium is expected to formally become a ban after a vote.

Hydraulic fracking is the process of splitting shale by injecting high pressure liquid into it, releasing the gas and oil trapped within the rock. Energy suppliers drill deep into the earth to reach the shale rocks sediments formed over millions of years ago. This unconventional method of extracting fossil fuels is widely practiced in regions such as the US, but it remains controversial in the UK.

Environmentalist groups rejoice at the ban, as fracking is notorious for its detrimental effects on both the environment and human and animal health. Stories of polluted waters and chemicals threatening human health as a result of spills and improper wastewater disposals are often heard of in the news. Households near drilling sites report radioactive materials and methane contaminating drinking water, making it unsafe for consumption as well as posing fire hazards. The toxic materials can also leak into the air, affecting the air quality of nearby regions.

The process itself is concerning as well. The drilling of wells disturbs the natural habitat of marine and land wildlife, as large pipelines and industrial waste create irreversible damage to the area. Fracking also uses up huge amounts of water. This not only means that water is wasted, but neighbouring farms and citizens are at risk especially during dry seasons.

Most importantly, burning fossil fuels gained from fracking releases greenhouse gases that have been locked up in the rocks. This adds to the already growing concern about mitigating carbon emissions to tackle global warming; fracking does not seem to be the answer.

All this might suggest that banning such exploitation of nature is the best solution. However, not everyone agrees with this decision. The U.S. has profited significantly from its shale gas boom, and Scotland may have missed this economic opportunity. Though economists estimate that fracking will only add 0.1% to Scotland’s GDP, many believe that fracking has the potential to create jobs and ensure energy security, especially as the oil reserve in the North Sea is declining. Clearly, fossil fuels continue to be a vital part of our life, not only for securing energy but also for producing goods in the plastics and chemicals industry.

Moreover, the true effects of fracking may not be as damaging as the public believe them to be. Some companies claim that stories of spills and pollution are exaggerated in the media, insisting that the blame should lie on malpractice rather than inherent dangers of the fracking process, hence the industry may be unreasonably vilified.

This is not to say, though, that fracking is the future of energy. Some recognise the environmental effects of fracking, but suggest that it can be a transitionary source of energy while developing more sustainable alternatives. Burning natural gas has its advantages over coal, as it is more efficient and releases less carbon dioxide. This may justify fracking as a temporary solution.

So what does this mean for Scotland? Besides the fracking companies, sceptics are concerned about the real implication of the ban. Though the policy banning fracking presents itself as pro-environmental, the Scottish government still allows the import of fracked gas and oil from the US, offshoring the responsibility while reaping the rewards. Is it moral to ban unconventional oil extraction, while sustaining  the practice of it in another country?

Nevertheless, concerned citizens in Scotland can celebrate the ban in its demonstration of our government’s willingness to consider the public opinion. A public consultation launched by the government showed that 99% out of over 65,000 respondents opposed fracking. The Scottish energy minister cited this overwhelming public opposition as the main motive behind the ban, which is a sign of a healthy democracy and has led to increased support for the ruling party. Moreover, the ban shows Scotland’s efforts to meet its climate goals. Hopefully, this will encourage positive steps towards halting climate change and more proactive approaches towards environmental conservation.

Image: Joshua Doubek via Wikimedia Commons

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