The vote to ban fracking can be seen as important to indicate the sentiment of several of the combined non-Government parties in Holyrood. But this is not the end of the matter, just another gateway to pass through along the road. It is not surprising that the SNP abstain for two reasons: first because the issue is divisive within the SNP membership at grass roots level; second because having created a Moratorium and a science based inquiry, then the Government can not pre-judge the results of that inquiry- and I say that even if the inquiry outcome is positive or negative towards “fracking”.

However the real issue for me is that I fear that this vote is based on only partial facts and in some cases prejudice and ignorance. What this says is actually we do not know enough yet, to be much more certain if “fracking” can be undertaken securely in Scotland or in England. There are many thousands of “fracked” boreholes in the USA, Canada and Australia. And very very few have any problems with the actual “fracking”. With older wells there have certainly been problems in fewer than 1% of wells, with fugitive gas leaking towards the surface around badly emplaced casing, and problems with spills of fluids at the surface. These are now much better regulated, and could be even better regulated in Scotland. The issue of what to do with contaminated waste water has not been adequately discussed in Scotland - and is even ignored in England. But there are certain methods which can be constructed to do such cleanup - that again is environmental enforcement. The most disruptive actions for most surface residents will be vehicle movements and pipeline construction for gas removal and water supply. In Scotland, there are large areas of brown post-industrial land which can be re-used for site development with minimal impact, if we choose to do so.

For me, though the real issue is not the fracking, it is the increased, or even continued, emission of fossil carbon to the atmosphere. This is certain to add to the global change effects we are now seeing expressed. So my own stance is that all fossil hydrocarbon production: coal, North Sea oil, gas or fracked hydrocarbons, has to be balanced by an equal quantity of carbon storage back into the ground. So yes, lets have lots of energy efficiency and lots of renewable electricity. But we also have so far totally failed, as the UK and as Scotland, to invest in the startups or the industries which capture or recapture carbon. And that includes a failure to reforest Scotland, which could take 5 Million tonnes per year of CO2 out of the atmosphere. As nuance, but an important aspect to this carbon accounting, if hydrocarbons obtained by fracking were used in the Scottish petrochemical industries in and around Grangemouth, that can not only keep many thousands of high value skilled jobs employed for many decades, that can also lock up carbon for decades in those products, and carbon emissions from those industries can be greatly reduced by improved processes. Failing to do that means we continue to import the same types of goods, but made with high carbon emissions in China, south Korea, or southern Africa.

What would I do? A decision is premature by many years. I would seek more information: by establishing a human health baseline across central Scotland which may be a candidate for fracking, by establishing a groundwater and atmosphere contamination baseline in the same region, and by drilling three vertical boreholes to 3 or 4km depth, to discover what rocks and faults are actually present. If there is potential value to be had, then I would work out with Ineos and other industries just how we are going to eliminate carbon emissions. Then lastly I would create a national onshore hydrocarbon company - fracking is an industrial operation, very little financial capital or innovation is needed to operate in an established basic way; environmental improvements can gradually be made to technology - such as fracking with carbon dioxide not water. But a national onshore oil and gas company keeps the value for Scotland of the exploration, the operations, the employment, the production and the sales. Giving away, to multinationals or to business developers, the fossil hydrocarbons which are very likely to be present beneath central Scotland is premature and un-necessary. Remember the Cheviot the Stag and the Black Oil? So banning fracking now, in a state of insufficient knowledge, is populist, but a premature decision for the knowledgeable and environmentally leading Scotland I hope that we are creating.

Stuart Haszeldine is professor of carbon capture and storage at University of Edinburgh