Fault lines appear as fracking dominates political landscape

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 19:33 on 17 December 2014.
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Fracking illustration.
COUNCILLORS might have the opportunity tomorrow afternoon to vote in favour of a moratorium on the unconventional gas extraction technique, known as ‘fracking’ – thanks to two Cumbernauld Councillors.

Cumbernauld Media understands that support appears to be rallying inside North Lanarkshire Council around two motions – which ultimately call for a moratorium on the controversial method of underground gas extraction – that will go before all elected members tomorrow (18 December).

Fracking is a process whereby a drill is sent down a borehole to fracture the underground rock core, before high pressure water is injected into the borehole, alongside sand – which keeps the fissures open - to force the gas out of the cores and up the borehole, for extraction.

The first of the motions calls for the council to note its “grave concerns regarding unconventional gas extraction”, adding that the council should back “a moratorium on the development of this technology throughout North Lanarkshire."

The motion is proposed by Scottish Green Party Councillor for Strathkelvin, Councillor Frances McGlinchey, and Cumbernauld Independent Councillors’ Alliance member, Alan O'Brien.

In a second motion to full council, Cumbernauld South Nationalist Councillor, Paddy Hogg and his colleague, David Baird – an SNP member for Mossend and Holytown – urge the authority to “adopt a precautionary principle” towards fracking.

Their full motion reads: "In accord with the framework and principles of the Local Development Plan to protect public health and environmental safety, Council shall adopt a precautionary principle towards land designed by the Coal Authority on their website as 'High Risk Development Areas' and consider this land inappropriate for unconventional gas extraction (including hydraulic fracturing, known as 'fracking' or coal bed methane extraction) including any form of exploratory bore hole, due to the potential for subsidence or other environmental risks. Moreover, given the Airth Public Inquiry, called−in by the Scottish Government during 2014, Council shall also adopt the precautionary principle and accordingly calls for a moratorium to be declared until it is established beyond reasonable doubt that coal bed methane extraction and 'fracking' are deemed 'safe' by independent scientific experts."

Since details of the motion were unveiled, elected members of North Lanarkshire Council have inundated by emails from eager campaigners, who are urging Councillors to back the motions.

One Councillor told Cumbernauld Media that their e-mail inbox had been “flooded” with appeals from “keen campaigners demanding Councillors back a ban”. The Councillor also told us that the motions face a tough time if they even to make it to council because “Labour can throw out issues they claim are ‘irrelevant’”, and that even if the motions make it to a vote, Labour’s outright majority will make voting tough for those moving the motions. 

Presently, Labour has 41 Councillors; the SNP has 25; there is one Cumbernauld Independent Councillors’ Alliance member; 2 independent Councillors, and one Scottish Green Councillor. 

Cumbernauld Media understands that the highest level of support remains with the second motion – which most of the SNP group are said to be backing. One Councillor has told Cumbernauld Media though that it will “come down to Labour and their whip”. 

Outside of the Motherwell Civic Centre and away from North Lanarkshire Council, the issue of fracking looks set to become a dominant political issue in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, as the constituency prepares to vote in the 2015 UK Parliament General Election.

The issue is proving to be fertile political ground for both the incumbent Labour MP, Gregg McClymont and SNP challenger, Stuart McDonald. 

As we reported last Wednesday, 36-year-old McDonald is expected to take forward his campaign on two main aims, including fighting to protect jobs at the Cumbernauld HMRC tax office site, and oppose hydraulic fracturing activities locally, by lending his support to groups against the controversial method.

After announcing his stance, McDonald has squared up to Labour man McClymont in what promises to be a pro-longed political battle – up to and beyond the General Election, on May 7, 2015.

Mr McClymont said he backed the Labour Party’s 11 amendments to the Infrastructure Bill, which was debated in the House of Commons last Monday (8 December).

The Labour man claimed that the party’s amendments would have seen the recommendations of the Smith Commission that the “licensing of onshore oil and gas extraction underlying Scotland will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.”

Battling it out through the Cumbernauld News, McClymont scorned his opponent. “It has always been the case that shale gas extraction can only happen in Scotland with the approval of the SNP in Holyrood,” he said.

He added: “The Scottish Government’s longstanding control of the planning and permitting regimes gives them a veto over any development in Scotland.

“But the SNP voted against a shale gas moratorium in Holyrood earlier this year,” claiming that the SNP is “maintaining the false pretence” that they are powerless to stop fracking in Scotland.

Mr McClymont’s SNP contender for the Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East seat has lampooned his opponent’s criticisms, claiming McClymont has been silent on whether or not he supports proposals to allow companies to frack under homes without the permission of the home-owners.

Mr McDonald said: “A particular area of controversy is the Tory/Liberal proposal to do away with any requirement for companies to seek permission from landowners before fracking underneath that land.

“And yet now we find a Labour spokesman at Westminster (shadow transport minister Richard Burden) stating that his party doesn’t oppose that controversial change.

“Mr McClymont should explain whether or not he too supports the Tory/Liberal proposals.

“If he’s siding with the Tories, then I’m sure many of his constituents will want to know – as they will be able to cast their vote at the next general election for an SNP candidate that is absolutely opposed to these changes.”

Mr McDonald question Mr McClymont on why he abstained in voting against the Infrastructure Bill as it was going through the House of Commons last Monday, on its second reading.

When asked whether the Bill should be read a second time and move forward to committee stage, most Labour MPs abstained – while the final result was 276 in favour and 10 MPs against. 
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