Is there enough backing for fracking?

DISCUSSION forums lit-up this week with the news that David Cameron supported an all-out drive to promote fracking.

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The Prime Minister promised UK Government funding to support and promote the use of the process.

Fracking is a word created principally in the United States to describe the process of hydraulic fracturing of shale rock to release natural gas.

The process of fracking involves pumping large quantities of water, sand and chemicals into the ground under high pressure, thus cracking shale rock and releasing gas.

Fracking, while relatively new in Britain, has been around for a long time in the United States.

In 2000, less than 1% of American natural gas supply was obtained through this process. Today, that figure stands at 25% and is growing. This has created nothing short of a revolution in energy supply in the United States, reducing fuel bills and making money for the energy companies.

However, fracking is not without its opponents, as we have seen from the various protests which have popped-up throughout England.

Opponents allege that ground water becomes contaminated with chemicals and that future water supplies may be poisoned. They also cite the environmental damage caused by churning-up the countryside, drilling, trucks and machinery, and all of the collateral environmental impact that they cause.

The Scottish Government has indicated that it intends to introduce a more robust regulation of drilling techniques, which would impede the progress of this activity in Scotland. In addition, it has strengthened planning policy and articulated that it intends to listen to local communities, in relation to their views on the process, in their area.

IT has yet to be determined whether the viability and cost of fracking in Scotland would make it commercially attractive.

However the geologists' map of Scotland, shows large tracts of land which potentially may be viable across the Central Belt, the Borders and Fife.

The Scottish Government has therefore given fracking a rather cool reception and, of course, is committed to no new nuclear power plants north of the Border.

It believes that renewables, wind and wave power, will hold the solution to Scotland's energy demands for many years to come.

However, given that 50% of our current demand for energy is met by Torness and Hunterston B nuclear power stations, scheduled to close in less than 10 years' time, the clock is ticking.

Enter the good citizens of a small coastal Aberdeenshire hamlet called Blackdog! This week Aberdeenshire Council rejected planning approval for a new £230million Aberdeen Bay Wind farm project, following opposition from the inhabitants of Blackdog.

Apparently some 62 out of the 85 residents of this hamlet, wrote letters of objection to Aberdeenshire Council.

WHILE the objections of Blackdog residents lay principally with the plans to build an on-shore sub-station, their objections will not be lost on that most charismatic of billionaires, Donald Trump.

The US TV network "Apprentice" is involved in legal action at the Court of Session, to prevent construction of the same development. Mr Trump is refusing to build a hotel, holiday homes and a residential village, adjacent to his multi-billion pound golf course, while the row rumbles on.

Where then does this leave Government policy, given that the Aberdeen Bay project is part of a bigger renewables corridor and that wind generation forms a major plank of SNP energy policy?

The Labour Party in Scotland has criticised the SNP's energy renewable targets as over-ambitious and technically undeliverable. The question therefore remains, will we be able to fill the 50% nuclear gap with renewables in less than a decade? Interesting question.

However, an even more interesting question will be posed when the investors in the Aberdeen Bay Wind Farm project appeal to the Scottish Government to over-turn the decision of Aberdeenshire Council.

If, in relation to energy projects, the Scottish Government is of the opinion that fracking requires strengthened planning policy and a need to listen to local communities, will it now listen to the good citizens of Blackdog?

What a grande mess we have with Francois Hollande's not so private affair.

With his partner Valerie Trierweiler, left, hospitalised with shock and anxiety and actress Julie Gayet, with whom he is alleged to have had an affair, lying low, the President refused to answer questions as to who exactly is France's First Lady?

In France, they believe that public figures are entitled to a private life and 77% of French voters say the affair is a private matter.

Correspondingly, 75% also say that Hollande's doing a bad job as President.

This is culturally different from the UK and I find myself agreeing with the French.

In this case however, it's clear that actions in his private life have affected his public office, both in relation to the status of the First Lady and his personal security.

Given the well publicised failings of the French economy and the President's alleged indiscretions, it is unlikely there will be too many politicians in Scotland wishing to articulate the benefits of this "auld alliance".

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