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Group calls for fracking moratorium extension

Anti-fracking campaigners
A file photo of Friends of the Earth activists outside Holyrood, Edinburgh

SNP members have formed a lobby group to encourage the Scottish Government to extend its temporary moratorium on fracking.

Smaug (SNP Members Against Unconventional Gas) is “awakening to save us from the confused priorities that lead us to damage the very resources that we need to live … and protect the wee inhabitants of Middle Earth from the long blight of falling house prices”, according to its founders.

Currently, a moratorium exists in Scotland temporarily halting fracking – fracturing onshore shale sediments to release gas – and also the extraction of coal-bed methane.

A vote will be held at next month’s SNP conference calling for it to be extended to include underground coal gasification.

Smaug’s founders said its name was consciously inspired by JRR Tolkein’s The Hobbit, in which a dragon is found “living in the depths of the earth and is disturbed by the predatory dwarves going digging for the treasures of its domain”.

“The SNP government are focused on delivering a fairer, more prosperous and equal Scotland,” the founders said.

“They have committed as part of their Climate Change Act to invest in the renewables sector and have recently launched both the Land Reform and Community Empowerment bills.

“I believe that another essential part of the SNP’s achieving its aims is to move away from the UK policies on fossil fuels and concentrate on how, for example, housing development, industrial estates and communities could generate their own power, therefore reducing fuel costs as well as help to ensure their climate change targets are being met.”

Energy minister Fergus Ewing this week mocked the Scottish Greens after its former convener Robin Harper offered a “cautious backing” for fracking “if it’s safe and if it doesn’t damage the environment”.

Speaking in Holyrood on Tuesday, Mr Ewing said: “While we see a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Scotland, we see political fracturing within the Green Party.”

Labour said Smaug has further exposed “the SNP’s attempt to face both ways on fracking” after Ineos chief executive Jim Ratcliffe reportedly received assurances from the Scottish Government that “they’re not against fracking”.

The party’s environmental justice spokeswoman Sarah Boyack said: “During the general election SNP MPs campaigned on an anti-fracking platform, but behind the scenes there are allegations that big businesses are getting nods and winks from senior SNP ministers that Scotland was open for business on fracking.

“Under Scottish Labour’s plan, no fracking will take place in Scotland without the local community affected giving its approval in a referendum. We will give Scots a local veto over fracking. It is clear that the SNP will not.”

Flick Monk, unconventional gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “This new SNP anti-fracking campaign is a very welcome development and shows the great levels of opposition to unconventional gas among party branches and grassroots members.

“All eyes will now be on the party conference as SNP members will get the chance to debate how to go beyond the current moratorium and ban unconventional fossil fuels outright.”

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