The groups, led by Concerned Communities of Falkirk (CCoF) and Friends of the Earth Scotland, are demanding “a moratorium on all forms of unconventional gas development in Scotland”. Risks to public health, workers and the environment are “impossible to regulate away”, they say.
They also want Scottish ministers to refuse permission for controversial plans to drill 22 wells to extract coalbed methane in Falkirk and Stirling. The plans provoked over 2,500 objections and were the subject of a public inquiry in March and April.
The groups have jointly written an open letter to the Scottish government, published in the Sunday Herald today. They include residents’ organisations from Cumbernauld, Canonbie, Clackmannanshire, Edinburgh, the Highlands and elsewhere concerned about possible developments in their areas.
Other signatories are the trade union, Unison, the Women’s Environmental Network Scotland and the Scottish Hazards Campaign. Two environmental health professors from Stirling University, Andrew Watterson and Rory O’Neill, have also added their names.
The letter questions the economic viability of unconventional gas, and condemns Westminster’s “gung-ho, undemocratic approach”. It describes the proposed use of financial incentives to try and salve concerns as "morally insupportable".
As well as coalbed methane plans in Falkirk and Stirling, a large swath of Scotland has been opened up for shale gas fracking, though there are currently no operating licences. There are also proposals, promoted last week, to gasify large reserves of coal under the Firth of Forth.
“I’ve seen growing – compelling – evidence from other countries of serious potential threats to health, water, land and air,” said Dr Carol Williams from CCoF. “Do we want irreversible damage here? I don’t. And regulation is not a solution.”
Dr Mark Williams, another CCoF member, said: “The emergence of this alliance shows the growing determination of Scottish communities to resist unconventional gas developments while potentially serious risks to public health and the local environment remain unassessed and unresolved.”
The Halt Unconventional Gas Extraction (HUGE) group, which involves 500 people, is opposing plans to exploit coalbed methane in Cumbernauld. “This is now becoming a moral fight against the oil and gas companies and the UK government who want to deny us the ability to demonstrate our democratic rights,” said the group’s Susan Hamilton.
Bill Frew, chairperson of Canonbie and District Residents Association, highlighted the companies and landowners pursing underground gas developments in his area. “A broad alliance of communities, to voice our opposition to this unwelcome and unnecessary activity that will be of detriment to Scottish people and places, is our last best hope,” he said.
Scott Donohoe, chair of Unison’s health and safety committee in Scotland, said: “We need to proceed with great care on this due to problems in the US and elsewhere with the quality of the water.”
The company that last month took over Dart Energy, iGas, stressed that onshore oil and gas had been safely explored in Scotland since 1851, with natural gas supplying four-fifths of the UK’s heat. It also highlighted a recent expert report for the Scottish government, which concluded that shale gas could be safely extracted.
“A number of leading scientific and industry expert reports have all concluded that any potential risks associated with the extraction of natural gas from shale are low and can be managed in a properly regulated industry,” said IGas’s chief executive, Andrew Austin.
A spokesman for the Scottish energy minister, Fergus Ewing MSP, argued that Scotland had a strong regulatory framework, and planned to strengthen it further. He pointed out that the Scottish National Party (SNP) passed a resolution on Friday calling for “continued caution in our approach to unconventional oil and gas extraction.”
He added: “We have also recently tightened planning policy on this issue, including bringing in buffer zones - a move welcomed by environmental groups. SNP MPs will also oppose Westminster plans to remove householders' rights on fracking under their homes.”