Plastics are fuel for fracking

Statement on Scottish government's plans to phase out single use plastics

The Broad Alliance (Scottish communities against unconventional gas extraction - fracking) welcomes the push from the Scottish and UK governments to cut back on throw-away single-use plastic.

The boom in plastics is the only thing sustaining the fracking industry worldwide. Demand for fossil fuels for power is decreasing thanks to renewables, so fossil fuel companies are switching.

Since 2010, $180bn has been invested in the US to build new gas “crackers” like those at Grangemouth. The aim is to produce ethane, a base for plastic manufacture, and to use it to make 40% more plastics this decade.

Legal challenge

One of the world’s biggest plastics makers, INEOS is asking leave to seek judicial review of the Scottish government’s decision to rule out fracking. CEO Tom Pickering claims that natural gas “keeps the power on and homes warm in Scotland and will contribute to energy security”.

But gas fracked by INEOS in the UK will not be mainly for heating and cooking. Mr Pickering himself confirmed at many public meetings across Scotland that the major use would be for their plastics business, like the gas they are importing from the US.

Announcing the legal action, INEOS states in their news release: “An expert report commissioned by the Scottish Government had concluded that shale gas could be produced safely”. But this is not quite accurate. INEOS are quoting from the Independent Expert Scientific Panel – Report on Unconventional Oil And Gas published in July 2014. What they have said was just a part of a sentence in the Executive Summary, not a conclusion. The conclusions of that report were quite different:

  1. Public concerns around unconventional gas development include concerns about technical risks such as water contamination, public health and seismicity, but also wider issues such as social impacts on communities, effect on climate targets and trust in operators, regulators and policymakers;
  2. In addition to the environmental impacts documented in Chapter 6, the process of exploring for shale gas and CBM and, if it happens, eventual scaling up to full production, will have social impacts on a local community;
  3. Social impacts documented from shale gas and CBM developments in the US and Australia have included job creation, local business investment and investment in infrastructure as well as population growth affecting local housing markets and local demographics; house prices; health effects on animals and people; increased truck traffic; and the impacts of development and protesters on stigmatising local communities
  4. Many of these social (and environmental) impacts can be mitigated if they are carefully considered at the planning application stage. Early consultation with communities is vital to identify potential impacts on a community, to scope out potential benefits and to develop plans to mitigate the impacts and enhance the benefits.

We would add that this preliminary and quite cursory report is not the evidentiary basis for the Scottish government’s decision. In 2015 there was a massive programme of evidence-gathering, in areas such as economy, health, transport and climate change. Eight reports were published in November 2016 and these are the evidentiary basis for the Scottish government’s decision.

Community Consultation

An “early community consultation” (as recommended in the 2014 report) did take place and 60,000 individuals and groups responded, the majority from areas that could be affected. 99% opposed fracking. Every one of the Community Councils in affected areas, who looked at the pros and cons at special neutrally facilitated consultation meetings, said “No”. Most local authorities in the affected areas are also against.

All the industry’s claims of safe extraction, community benefit money and jobs did not convince people at all. They rejected the reindustrialisation of the Central Belt.

INEOS said at public meetings that they would respect the decision of the Scottish government. We suspect that was because they thought they and their backers would get their way. Now that has failed, they are singing a different tune.

If there’s one thing we learned throughout this whole process, it is that it has to be communities, and their local representatives, who make these decisions – not corporations whose sole focus is on their bottom line.

Time to switch

There is now a global movement to end throw-away plastic pollution. It is great that the Scottish and UK governments want to be part of it. The global plastics industry and their fracking partners are betting on the wrong horse – they’d do better to switch to biodegradables and renewables, and soon. Friends of the Earth Scotland is leading the way with their work on a just transition from fossil fuels - which could deliver more, not fewer, jobs.

We urge everyone who is against fracking to join the fight against throwaway plastic, and also to switch to a frack-free energy supplier.