THE SNP has been accused of misrepresenting its position over fracking in a bid to win votes at the General Election after ministers refused to spell out how far-reaching a temporary ban on the controversial technique is.


The party has issued official green badges which include the SNP ribbon and the term 'Frack Off', the slogan widely used by anti-fracking campaigners who support an outright ban on unconventional oil and gas extraction, to activists across Scotland during the current campaign.

However, despite apparent efforts to present the party as anti-fracking, energy minister Fergus Ewing has refused to explain what a moratorium, which he announced in January, means to energy firms and has not ruled out allowing fracking once it expires.

Labour energy spokesman Lewis Macdonald submitted a series of questions in mid-February, asking the Scottish Government to confirm whether the moratorium would prevent firms testing for fracking, carrying out commercial feasibility studies and whether other environmentally controversial energy extraction techniques would be covered.

However, despite answers being due by the middle of last month, only 'holding responses' have been issued, meaning that it is increasingly unlikely that they will be answered ahead of the general election.

Mr Macdonald accused the SNP of misleading the public over the issue, with the Scottish Government repeatedly refusing to rule out allowing fracking at some point in the future. Ministers have said a public consultation and further research will take place before a decision is made.

He added: "Anyone who is thinking of voting SNP because of this apparent opposition to fracking should think twice. You have to think a confidence trick is being pulled on voters, who are being given the impression that the SNP oppose fracking yet they're not even prepared to answer the most basic questions about what this moratorium means."

"I think they're telling big companies that there's nothing to worry about at the same time as telling protesters they're on their side. It's all part of them wanting to appear left wing, but at the same time presenting themselves as a safe option to business."

Ineos, the firm which holds 729 sq miles of fracking exploration licences across central Scotland, strongly opposed a moratorium in the run-up to it being announced by Mr Ewing, but then appeared to welcome the move. It later emerged that Nicola Sturgeon had been meeting with Ineos chief Jim Ratcliffe while her energy minister was announcing the moratorium, raising suspicion that the company had been given private assurances that its interests would not be affected in the long term.

Ineos has said that a shale gas industry is unlikely to be established in the UK for three to five years and has continued preparatory work for fracking. It recently launched a charm offensive to win over public opinion.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that underground coal gasification, a technique similar to fracking which many campaigners consider more dangerous, is not covered by the moratorium when it takes place on the sea bed. Two private companies have advanced plans to gasify the coal that underlies large parts of the Firth of Forth and the Solway Firth.

Environmentalists have said the Scottish Government would be able to block the developments through its powers over planning and environmental licences if it chose to.

Ed Pybus, spokesman for Frack Off Scotland, said: "It's clear that the SNP are not anti-fracking. The only parties with a clear principled stance on this issue are the Tories, who are for it, and the Greens who oppose it. The rest are playing political games."

"The fact that they have refused to provide information on this before the election suggests the moratorium is about political posturing. These are not controversial questions that have been asked by Lewis Macdonald. We know that not everything is included in the ban so why doesn't the Scottish Government say so?

"We have never sought to have control over the term frack off, it's been used by lots of different groups. But the SNP have not shown that they are against unconventional oil and gas, so the badges are a misrepresentation of their policy."

Dr Richard Dixon - Director Friends of the Earth Scotland: "The moratorium is great but it puts SNP candidates in a tough place because they can't honestly say the party is anti-fracking, much as most of them would like too. Leaving Underground Coal Gasification to proceed unchallenged is another difficult area for the SNP, when the concerns are even more serious than for fracking and live proposals are due to be submitted before the end of the year."

"There are clear lessons for the SNP to toughen up the central messages on fracking, UCG and other unconventional gas techniques as soon as this election is over and minds turn to the Scottish election next year."

An SNP spokesman said: "The SNP Government acted and announced a moratorium on fracking in January - compared to Scotland's Labour MPs, who failed to vote for a moratorium in the House of Commons."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government is continuing to take a cautious, evidence-based approach to all

issues relating to unconventional oil and gas, and underground coal gasification.

"Within this context, officials are currently gathering further information and facts on these issues, and the Scottish Government will provide an update in due course."