The Scottish government has announced that it will place a temporary ban on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, the Guardian reported Wednesday.
Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing reportedly told the country’s parliament that the ban would allow for time for the government to conduct a public health assessment on the process. The decision and rationale closely resembles that of former New York Governor David Paterson, who in 2008 imposed a moratorium on fracking in the state pending a full-scale public health study. That moratorium lasted six years, and ended with current Gov. Andrew Cuomo banning the practice.
Fracking is a technique used by drilling companies to make oil and gas flow more easily out of the ground. It involves blasting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand, and chemicals underground to crack, or “fracture,” underground shale rock, thereby releasing oil and gas to flow back to the surface.
Ewing reportedly said that banning the practice temporarily would give time to hear both sides of the issue — an issue which, at least in the U.S., has been fraught with emotion. Opponents of the technique say there is not enough science on the long-term public health or environmental risks of fracking, and that the process contributes to accidental releases of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Advocates say the process is safe, and that it boosts the economy.
“I want to ensure that the voices of the communities likely to be most affected are heard, and are heard in a more formal and structured way,” Ewing said, the Scottish newspaper The Herald reported. “Given the importance of this work, it would be inappropriate to allow any planning consents in the meantime.”
According to The Herald, a recent survey of 1,000 Scots found that 40 percent were against fracking, while 25 percent were in favor of it. Approximately 11 percent said they would be in favor of fracking, but “not in my backyard”, while nearly another 25 percent said they were not sure whether the process should go forward.
Scotland describes its approach to energy policy as one that encourages economic growth while aiming to gradually reduce its carbon emissions. “Energy use is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, emissions which threaten the sustainability of our planet,” a government document describing Scotland’s energy policy states. “Energy policy can contribute to economic growth while at the same time helping ensure that growth is sustainable.”
The country has worked toward achieving that policy by investing heavily in renewable energy, most notably the wind and wave industries. Just a few months ago, Scotland’s branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported that the country’s wind turbines generated enough electricity this past October to power 3,045,000 homes in the U.K. — more than enough for all the homes in Scotland. The country is also in the process of building what it hopes will be the world’s biggest tidal array, which when completed is projected to provide enough electricity to power 175,000 homes.
Despite its goals, however, Scotland is not solely a renewable energy economy. Quite the contrary. In fact, Scotland is the EU’s largest petroleum producer, its economy largely fueled by offshore drilling in the North Sea.
Scotland also routinely misses its yearly emissions reductions targets, though that’s likely because the country’s targets are unprecedentedly ambitious. Indeed, Scotland has reduced its carbon emissions by 26.4 percent since 1990, and maintains that it is on track to achieve a 42 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
The U.K. as a whole is hoping to replace a fifth of its aging coal and gas plants with renewable energy by 2020, and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.