Council to press for Scottish fracking moratorium

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 16:07 on 19 December 2014.
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North Lanarkshire Council has released a statement following yesterday's vote, in Motherwell.
NORTH Lanarkshire Council say that concerns surrounding the impact and safety of unconventional gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing is not known about, confirming its new position that the Scottish Government should implement a moratorium on fracking.

Fracking is the process where a borehole is drilled down to the rock-core, and the rock is fractured by the drill; high pressure water is then sent down the borehole to force the gas out of the cores and up the borehole, for extraction – with sand often being often to keep the cracks open. 

The whole process has come in for heavy public opposition, however, with claims that it leads to earthquakes, water pollution and damage to the environment – by opposition campaigners.

Yesterday (18 December), Councillors throughout North Lanarkshire backed a moratorium on the controversial method of gas extraction – but agreed that the Scottish Government should declare it, rather than the authority.

The decision came after two motions were brought before the whole council yesterday afternoon (18 December). 

The first of the motions – which was proposed by the new Scottish Green Party Councillor for Strathkelvin, Councillor Frances McGlinchey, and Cumbernauld Independent Councillors’ Alliance member, Alan O'Brien – called for the authority 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."

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 – urged the council to “adopt a precautionary principle” towards fracking.

Their full motion read: "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."

The second motion was defeated in a final vote, with Labour using its overarching majority in the 70-seat chamber to throw out the motion. However, the SNP Group lent their support to Councillor McGlinchey and O’Brien’s motion in a bid to change Council policy.

In voting on the motion, the leading Labour group managed to push through an amendment which agreed with the sentiment of the motion from the Strathkelvin and Cumbernauld North Councillors – but called for an immediate moratorium to be called by the Scottish Government, rather than by North Lanarkshire Council.

The amendment was later passed and resulted in the original motion – which read: “This Council has grave concerns regarding unconventional gas extraction and to this end supports a moratorium on the development of this technology throughout North Lanarkshire.” – becoming: “We [North Lanarkshire Council] agree to the sentiment of the motion and a moratorium should be introduced. We [North Lanarkshire Council] call on the Scottish Government to do so immediately.”

Commenting on the policy change today (19 December), Councillor James Coyle, the convener of North Lanarkshire Council’s Planning and Transportation committee welcomed the cross-party consensus.

He said: "Councillors across all parties are concerned that not enough is known about the impact and safety of fracking and other unconventional methods of gas extraction.

"We are not in a position to impose a moratorium in North Lanarkshire under existing planning law, as all applications must be dealt with on their merits. But the Scottish Government can and should act immediately by imposing a moratorium on all applications for fracking across the country.

"The Scottish Government have used the excuse in the past that they do not control mineral gas extraction rights, but this is an excuse which will not wash.

"The Smith Commission recommends that control over extraction rights should be devolved, but the Scottish Government shouldn't wait. They can do something about this right now, using their existing powers, and they should do so to provide reassurance to residents across North Lanarkshire and beyond.

"Fracking is an issue for huge swathes of Scotland and it shouldn't be up to individual councils to deal with something which has national implications."
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