The Scottish government has delayed its decision on whether to ban fracking.
A final policy decision had been promised by the end of this month, following a public consultation. But in a parliamentary answer today the energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse, announced that a further consultation on new documents would begin after the Easter holiday.
“Our final policy on unconventional oil and gas will be confirmed and adopted as soon as possible after this process is complete.”
The announcement came just days after a legal opinion confirmed that the Scottish government had the power to ban fracking.
Friends of the Earth Scotland, which commissioned that opinion, said today:
“it’s time for the Scottish Government to stop dilly-dallying, have the courage of its convictions and legislate to stop the industry for good.”
Scotland has now had two consultations on fracking.
The first, in 2017, saw about 60,000 responses, of which 99% opposed the fracking. The Scottish government then set out its preferred position that it did not support onshore unconventional oil and gas development.
A second consultation began in October 2018 on assessments of the environmental and business impacts of the preferred position.
Today, Mr Wheelhouse said the Scottish government would be clarifying the preferred policy position and its objectives in response to this second consultation. He said:
“We are also taking the opportunity to update our position on the reasonable alternatives to the preferred policy position which were considered as part of the SEA process.”
The minister said it would publish an addendum and invite further comments. Responses would be considered before the final policy position was reached.
“Legislate to stop the industry”
Commenting on the announcement, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s head of campaigns, Mary Church, said:
“Communities on the frontline of this dirty industry who have been waiting for over four years for the Scottish Government to bring its long drawn out process on unconventional oil and gas to an end, now face even further delay. Holyrood has the power to ban fracking – it’s time for the Scottish Government to stop dilly-dallying, have the courage of its convictions and legislate to stop the industry for good.
“The Scottish Government and Parliament have a very clear mandate from the people of Scotland to ban fracking. It was one of the top 5 issues going into the 2016 election, with the SNP elected on a promise to deal with industry, the Scottish Parliament has already voted to ban it and over 60,000 responded to a consultation in 2017 rejecting fracking. A series of subsequent powerful commitments from Nicola Sturgeon and her Ministers have still not resulted in robust, long-term protection against this industry.
“We commissioned a legal opinion from one of Scotland’s leading lawyers which makes it equally clear that Holyrood can and should ban fracking, and that legislating would be a far more robust way to stop the industry and defeat any further legal challenges from the likes of INEOS. We urge Ministers to work together with the other anti-fracking parties to pass a law banning fracking and finally put this issue to bed once and for all.”
The Scottish government successfully defended its position on fracking last year against a challenge at the Court of Session by Ineos and Reach Coal Seam Gas.
The companies said a ban on fracking was unlawful and claimed damages for an alleged breach of their human rights, saying business interests had been “adversely affected”.
But the Scottish government argued that it had not yet adopted a final position and the concept of an “effective ban” was the language of a press statement.
The judge, Lord Pentland, said the government’s position was legally sound and the preferred policy should stand.
DrillOrDrop invited Ineos to respond to today’s announcement. This post will be updated with any response.