Fracking: Scotland and England take different paths

By Kevin Keane
BBC Scotland's environment correspondent

  • Published
Media caption,
Women, symbolically dressed in white, turn up at the fracking site in Lancashire to protest daily

A lot has changed in the UK's shale gas sector since the Scottish government put the brakes on it back in 2015.

But despite what you might have heard from politicians, it's still not technically banned in Scotland.

An "effective ban" announced in 2017, which uses planning legislation to stop associated development, was followed by a judicial ruling that no ban existed.

Despite a promise to sort it once and for all by Holyrood's Easter recess, a final decision has been delayed again.

Scottish ministers who sanctioned one of the world's most extensive series of reports into the impact of fracking have now decided they need a fresh consultation.

Friends of the Earth Scotland said it was time to stop the "dilly-dallying".

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The drilling rig at Preston New Road shale gas exploration site

South of the border, where the Tory government supports it, the march of fracking has continued.

At the Preston New Road site in Lancashire, operator Cuadrilla has even managed to get the gas flowing.

But the objections have continued too.

For close to two years the "women in white" have gathered to protest at the site's entrance; a little bit of industry in a relatively rural setting.

They walk half a mile or so to the gates with a police escort and the frequent "toots" of support from passing drivers.

They might have lost the battle at this particular site but their defiance suggests they feel the war isn't lost.

Image caption,
Barbara Richardson did not think the protest against fracking would take so long

Barbara Richardson is one of the most high profile objectors and says it's been a long haul.

She said: "I never envisaged it would last this long at all, I mean I've personally been involved for five years now and it's virtually taken over my life.

"And you know the struggle still goes on, but I have noticed a change and the industry is finding it more and more difficult to find social licence.

"They're having more and more problems as we go along so there's a big change from five years ago when I first started."

Image caption,
A poet urges solidarity against fracking during the protest

During our visit a travelling poet urges solidarity among the crowd.

"Oh England, don't they fear the way you shake?" he recites.

From poetry to full-on protests, local people at sites across England have been doing their bit to frustrate the industry's progress.

And here they believe that tactic is working.

Image caption,
Protester Miranda Cox said the protest had delayed fracking

Protester Miranda Cox said: "It's made a big difference actually. I know we've held this site up for several months.

"They're behind schedule and they will run out of planning permission at the end of this year so we know that they haven't achieved exactly what they'd hoped to in the timeframe they had."

The shale gas extraction at Preston New Road lasted just a matter of weeks before Cuadrilla called it off.

They're now having their own fight with the UK government over whether rules on earth tremors can be relaxed.

The immediate communities might be against drilling but the opposition isn't universal.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Operator Cuadrilla has managed to get the gas flowing at its Preston New Road site

In nearby Blackpool there's a desperate need for high quality jobs.

It's one of Britain's most socially-deprived towns and some think a new industry is exactly what's needed.

There's even talk of an "economic renaissance" to reverse the region's woes.

Image caption,
Lee Petts said the jobs from shale gas could help the area transform itself

Businessman Lee Petts represents Lancashire for Shale which supports the industry.

He told me: "Blackpool is pretty central to Lancashire's visitor economy and has been for a long time but it's full of very low-skilled, low-paid jobs on zero hours contracts.

"That's not great for young people with ambition and something like shale on the doorstep, that can bring an influx potentially of very highly-skilled, well-paid jobs with prospects, could really help Blackpool to transform itself in the future."

You don't need one of the seaside resort's clairvoyants to work out whether the Scottish government will seek to ban fracking permanently.

But previous attempts to do so have proved stormy, resulting in a protracted court battle.

The biggest question will be whether ministers can stop fracking without another legal fight.

Protesters in Lancashire urge ministers to go for it.

Miranda Cox added: "I know the Scottish government have spent a lot of time, many years, looking into this industry and looking at the risks and the harms and I would say stick to your guns."

The Scottish government's next move on fracking is much anticipated.

It won't now come until later in the year but it will be watched closely north and south of the border.