07/10/2016
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RSPB Scotland welcomes ban on fracking while Westminster opens floodgates

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Anti-fracking protests, such as this one at Balcombe, West Sussex, in August 2013, show the strength of popular unease at drilling for gas using fracking techniques. Photo: Robin Webster (commons.wikimedia.org).
Anti-fracking protests, such as this one at Balcombe, West Sussex, in August 2013, show the strength of popular unease at drilling for gas using fracking techniques. Photo: Robin Webster (commons.wikimedia.org).
The Scottish Government has ruled out giving the go-ahead to any proposals for underground coal gasification (UCG) in Scotland.

The decision was based on emerging evidence of the significant environmental impacts of the technology, popularly known as 'fracking', and the possibility that climate targets could be seriously impeded by developments going ahead.

RSPB Scotland has welcomed the announcement, made in Scottish Parliament yesterday (6 October) by Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse, in response to the publication of a review commissioned by the Scottish Government, led by Campbell Gemmell,  Professor of Environmental Research at the University of Glasgow and former CEO of SEPA. Prior to the Scottish Government putting in place a moratorium on UCG in October last year in response to concerns about impacts, developers were investigating opportunities for UCG, a form of ‘unconventional gas’ extraction, at sites in the Firth of Forth, including in areas protected under national and European law for their wildlife importance.

Scotland's response to such developmental plans contrasts strikingly with that of the Westminster government, where Communities Secretary Sajid Javid accepted an appeal from shale drilling company Cuadrilla to frack for shale gas in Lancashire, between Blackpool and Preston. The scheme had initially been stalled by a last-minute intervention by Friends of the Earth last year.

While UCG trials have taken place in other countries, no full-scale project has been demonstrated and significant uncertainties remain over environmental impacts. Key risks include pollution of aquifers and other water contamination, as well as national considerations of whether further burning of coal resources is compatible with Scotland’s climate ambitions.
Lloyd Austin, Head of Conservation Policy at RSPB Scotland, said: “We are at a critical time in Scotland where we need to move to sustainable, low carbon energy and at the same time protect our natural environment, which is under ever-increasing pressure.

“Our understanding of the potential impacts of UCG is still limited. Given sites being investigated in the Firth of Forth include some of our most important places for marine wildlife including internationally protected seabirds, we welcome that the Scottish Government has taken a precautionary approach, resisted pressures to rush ahead with this technology and put the protection of the environment and local communities first.”

RSPB Scotland are also calling on Scottish Government to confirm that, when the UK leaves the European Union, they will seek to maintain at least an equivalent level of protection for the environment, as is provided for by European law.
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