Environmental campaigners and opposition politicians have raised concerns about more than £27,000 donated to the Scottish National Party by a drilling company that could benefit if the moratorium on fracking were to end.
Hydracrat director Bobby Hill also gave £6,500 to the SNP branch in Airdrie and Shotts ahead of the 2011 Holyrood elections.
Hydracrat lists its principal activity as ‘test drilling and boring’. The company currently works extensively in renewables and mineral exploration but envisages opportunities for groundwater monitoring if shale gas exploration were to get the go-ahead in Scotland.
The Scottish Government declared a moratorium on fracking in January. A decision on its future in Scotland will not now taken before a health assessment and a public consultation, unlikely to end until after next May’s Holyrood elections.
Campaigners called on SNP politicians to clarify their relationship with the drilling company.
“With fracking a major political hot potato, the SNP clearly have questions to answer about their engagement with this drilling firm . With the whole subject of unconventional gas under review any hint of undue influence from the industry could make people mistrust the honesty of the current moratorium,” says Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.
“The politicians involved need to make clear statements about the nature of their interactions with Hydracrat Ltd.”
In February 2014, Hydracrat director Bobby Hill met with planning minister Alex Neil and then minister for environment and climate change Paul Wheelhouse.
Bobby Hill thinks that the moratorium is “the right thing to do”, but says that if fracking did begin his company would be well placed to conduct monitoring of groundwater around boreholes.
“If shale gas happens to take off in Scotland you need to check the groundwater quality to see if there is any contamination taking place,” Hill told The Ferret.
“You are going to have to look at monitoring for groundwater, to monitor the groundwater quality just in case of any leaks or spills or contaminations.”
Scottish Green MSP Patrick Harvie said that accepting donations from the drilling company undermined the SNP’s environmental message.
“Accepting donations from a company involved in fossil fuel extraction underlines the SNP’s more-of-everything approach to energy when what is urgently needed is a clear shift towards clean technology,” the Green co-convenor said.
“Voters who want a greener Scotland would be entitled to question the credibility of a party taking donations from firms at odds with this agenda.”
In July, The Ferret revealed that planning minister and Airdrie and Shotts MSP Alex Neil had written to veteran entrepreneur Algy Cluff to reassure him that the Scottish Government’s fracking moratorium did not extend to underground coal gasification (UCG).
Shortly after The Ferret published Cluff’s lobbying letters to the Scottish Government, he declared that his plans to develop UCG in the Forth had been shelved. In October, the Scottish Government bowed to public pressure to include UCG in the wider fracking moratorium.
Voters who want a greener Scotland would be entitled to question the credibility of a party taking donations from firms at odds with this agenda. Patrick Harvie, MSP
Neil Gray stood on an avowedly anti-fracking platform in May’s general election. The MP – who previously worked as an office manager for Alex Neil at Holyrood – said that the Hydracrat donation did not affect his position on fracking.
“The donation was from a local business who believes that – despite my position on fracking – the SNP provides a strong voice for Scotland at Westminster.”
Hydracrat’s Bobby Hill is a veteran independence supporter. In August 2014, he was one of around 200 business people who signed an open letter in The Herald calling for a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum. Hydracrat took out an advertisement in the first issue of the independence-supporting newspaper, The National.
Scottish Labour environmental justice spokesperson Sarah Boyack MSP accused the SNP of having “one message for the Scottish people and one for big business”.
“Anyone confused by the SNP’s stance on fracking would do well to follow the money , and here we see SNP politicians who say ‘frack off’ in public while lining their election war chest with thousands from companies who stand to make a huge windfall from fracking and unconventional oil and gas extraction.
“There have been allegations that behind the scenes big businesses are getting nods and winks that Scotland was open for business on fracking. And the loophole allowing borehole drilling, which could be exploited by industry, has caused further concern the SNP government has loaded the dice for an eventual decision to allow fracking once the Holyrood elections are out of the way.”
A spokesperson for Alex Neil described Sarah Boyack’s claims as “spurious”, citing the welcome environmental campaigners gave the Scottish Government’s introduction of a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas.
“These comments represent rank hypocrisy from a Labour politician given that their Shadow Energy Minister Baroness Worthington has urged people to back fracking,” he said.