Fracking becomes key issue in Falkirk election race

Several anti-fracking protests have been staged outside Ineos' Grangemouth headquarters in recent months. Picture: Michael Gillen
Several anti-fracking protests have been staged outside Ineos' Grangemouth headquarters in recent months. Picture: Michael Gillen
  • Falkirk candidates disagree on potential benefits or risks of shale gas drilling
  • Ineos stages first of several public meetings to state its case for pursuing new industry
  • SNP and Labour opposed while UKIP endorse plan
  • Concerns raised over prospect of drilling close to residential properties

Fracking became a key election issue this week as Labour and SNP candidates confirmed their opposition to unconventional gas drilling in the Falkirk district.

The subject is back on the agenda after UKIP’s David Coburn pledged his support for the industry in a Falkirk Herald interview and Ineos, owners of the Grangemouth petrochemical and refinery complexes, held the first of several public meetings aimed at easing fears regarding the process.

The proximity of residential areas is taken into account as part of the site selection process

Ineos spokesman

The event at Denny High School last week was well-attended by residents, campaigners and journalists from across the country eager to hear the multinational firm’s representatives state their case in the face of stiff local opposition.

“We put forward clear and factual information that showed the potential for shale gas extraction in Scotland,” said an Ineos spokesman.

“This is an important technology that will help provide jobs, support manufacturing and maintain valuable revenue for the Scottish economy.”

The meeting took place on the same day that Coburn, who is standing in the Falkirk constituency, compared fracking opponents to “people in the 1840s saying they didn’t want steam trains”.

But two of the other candidates battling to become Falkirk’s next MP at the General Election on May 7 have pledged to oppose shale gas drilling in the district.

Labour’s Karen Whitefield said: “People here have real concerns about the disruption fracking could bring to their community and the impact it could have on our environment.”

She added that the current Scottish Government-imposed moratorium on fracking did not go far enough to address the potential long-term issues with the process.

“I think it is clear that if Ineos had been advised that the moratorium was anything other than temporary they would not be spending thousands of pounds on a charm offensive trying to persuade local residents that their very real concerns for their community and the environment are without foundation,” she continued.

Councillor John McNally, SNP candidate for Falkirk, said he would not only oppose any application for fracking within the constituency but also take the fight for a more open and transparent licensing system to the heart of Westminster.

At present licenses for drilling are issued by the UK Government, with no obligation to consult residents, even if the drilling occurs directly under their homes.

Meanwhile, one of the key talking points to emerge from last Thursday’s meeting was that drilling could take place within 400m of residential properties, despite a Scottish Government planning recommendation of a two kilometre ‘buffer zone’.

Maria Montinaro, of Concerned Communities of Falkirk, said: “Ineos insist on an evidence based approach to acceptance of the unconventional gas industry in Scotland and criticised the New South Wales government’s introduction of a two km buffer zone ‘being a purely political decision with no base in science’. However, Ineos fail to provide communities with the scientific rationale for their 400m buffer.”

An Ineos spokesman said: “We were clear that extraction of gas can only be carried out when consent has been secured alongside Department of Energy and Climate Change and Health & Safety Executive permission. The proximity of residential areas is taken into account as part of the site selection process.”

Ineos plans to become the biggest player in the new shale gas market

Ineos has said it plans to invest £640 million, in shale gas exploration and production

The firm already plans to import shale gas from the USA to use as a cheap feedstock for its Grangemouth petrochemical plant and is now looking to utilise potential sources closer to home.

Last year, the company started buying up rights to allow it to explore hundreds of square miles around its Grangemouth site for shale gas.