Scotland’s SNP Government announced a moratorium this afternoon on the granting of planning permissions for all unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking.
In a statement to the Scottish parliament, the Energy Minister, Fergus Ewing, said the moratorium would remain in force until the Scottish Government had completed a wide-ranging survey into the effects of onshore oil and gas extraction.
Mr Ewing described Scotland’s approach to unconventional oil and gas as “cautious, considerate and evidence-based”. He contrasted this with UK government attitude, which, he said, “sought to develop shale gas quickly at any cost”.
SNP MPs voted in favour of a moratorium in Monday’s debate on the Infrastructure Bill in the House of Commons but the proposal was heavily defeated when most Labour MPs abstained.
Mr Ewing described as “a disgrace” the proposal in the Bill to allow companies to drill under private properties without the owners’ consent. Following a concession by the UK government, this part of the bill will now not apply to Scotland. Mr Ewing said he had asked the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, to not issue any more exploration licences for Scotland.
The minister said the Scottish government would look closely at the impacts of onshore oil and gas development. He announced:
- 12-week public consultation
- Full public health assessment
- Further research on the effects of increased traffic, noise and related emissions on local communities
- Tightening of planning guidance and environmental protection
- Review of other countries’ experience
Mr Ewing said the public consultation would allow the voices of those likely to be most affected by unconventional oil and gas to be heard in a more formal and structured way.
Future decisions would be informed not just by technical issues, Mr Ewing said, but by a fuller understanding of public opinion.
He said the work announced today would take time to complete and the Government would set out the timescale “in due course”.
“Given the importance of this work it would be inappropriate to allow any planning consents in the meantime. I am therefore announcing today a moratorium on planning consents for unconventional oil and gas work, including fracking. This will continue until work has been completed”.
A similar moratorium will apply to permits issued by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
Mr Ewing acknowledged that some people saw opportunities in unconventional oil and gas extraction, including companies working in the chemical industry, such as Ineos.
“We should never close our minds to the potential opportunities of new technologies but we must also ensure that community, environmental and health concerns are not simply brushed aside. This government will not allow that to happen and I hope the actions I have announced today will be widely welcomed as proportionate and responsible”.
Lewis Macdonald (Lab) challenged the SNP to endorse Labour’s 13 conditions added to the UK Infrastructure Bill in Monday’s debate in the House of Commons and to declare that Scotland would not be first to frack in the UK. He also called for local referendums on fracking proposals.
Murdo Fraser (Con) quoted Tom Crotty, CEO of Ineos as saying that if Scotland didn’t embrace shale gas there could be a collapse in manufacturing.
Angus MacDonald (SNP) asked how the moratorium would affect existing operations. Mr Ewing replied that the moratorium could not apply retroactively to applications which had already been granted.
Liam McArthur (LibDem) asked if the minister would rule out signing any contract for fracking in Scotland. The minister replied that he would not pre-judge the outcome of the process.
Graeme Dey(SNP) asked what steps would be taken to ensure the public consultation was as far reaching as possible. Mr Ewing repllied that the consultation would run for 12 weeks, starting in around two months.
Clare Baker (Lab) asked if today’s announcement would affect unconventional gas operations in the Firth of Forth. The minister replied that devolved powers only applied to onshore operations.