As expected, the Scottish government has continued an indefinite moratorium on fracking and the unconventional oil and gas industry.
The final policy position to not support the industry was accidentally and briefly posted online yesterday.
SNP ministers stepped back from legislating for a formal ban. Instead they said they would use the devolved planning and licensing policy to maintain the moratorium.
The decision was welcomed by Scottish Labour and the Scottish Green, as well as environmental organisations. But they expressed frustration at the lack of a full legal ban.
In a statement this afternoon to the Scottish parliament, energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said:
“Ministers have concluded that the unconventional oil and gas industry would not be of sufficient positive benefit in Scotland to outweigh its negative impacts.
“Based on the clear evidence of impacts and the lack of social acceptability, I confirm today that the Scottish government’s final policy position is that we do not support the development of unconventional oil and gas, often known as fracking, in Scotland.”
He said this meant there was no support for exploration, appraisal or production of shale oil, shale gas or coal bed methane using unconventional extraction techniques.
Mr Wheelhouse said the Scottish government’s decision was based on what he said was “one of the more far-reaching investigations into unconventional oil and gas by any government anywhere in the world”.
The overwhelming response from three consultations was no social licence for the industry, Mr Wheelhouse said.
He said ministers had also concluded that the industry was “incompatible” with the Scottish government’s policy on climate change, energy transition and the decarbonisation of the economy.
Conclusion of a six-year process
The moratorium on fracking was first introduced in Scotland in January 2015, following government reports in both 2013 and 2014. Further reports followed in 2016. A consultation in 2017 attracted more than 60,000 responses.
Exactly two years ago today, Mr Wheelhouse announced what he described as “an effective ban”.
In 2018, the Scottish government successfully defended a legal challenge brought by Ineos and Reach Coal Seam Gas. The court dismissed the companies’ case because the so-called ban was ruled to have no legal force.
Following further assessments and consultations in 2018 and 2019, Mr Wheelhouse said today:
“We do not consider that new legislation is necessary at this time to control unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland. A strong policy position, enacted through devolved planning powers and licensing is, we believe, robust, evidence-led and sufficient.”
He said no exploration licences would be issued that would permit fracking. A new planning direction would be issued today to Scottish planning authorities setting out the new policy.
The policy would also be included in the next version of Scotland’s National Planning Framework, which must be approved by parliament, he said, before it can be adopted by ministers.
He said a legislative ban remained an option if evidence showed it was needed.
In a nod to Ineos and other chemical companies in central Scotland, Mr Wheelhouse he said:
“Scotland’s chemicals industry has conveyed strong views on the potential benefits of unconventional oil and gas for Scottish industry. While we do not share this vision, I want to be clear that our support for Scotland’s industrial base and our desire to develop our world class chemical sector is unwavering.”
But he added:
“We do not agree that unconventional oil and gas extraction is a requirement of the industry’s future.”
Mr Wheelhouse said:
“No unconventional oil and gas extraction has taken place in Scotland since the moratorium.
“The contrast with the gung-ho approach taken in England could not be more stark.”
Resolution of Airth coal bed methane scheme
Today’s decision could allow the resolution of a large application, dating back to 2012, for more than 20 coal bed methane wells at Airth in central Scotland. An appeal is currently suspended awaiting today’s decision.
Mark Ruskell, of the Scottish Greens, said communities in the Forth Valley had faced “a huge amount of uncertainty” because of the applications and some residents had been unable to sell their homes.
Mr Wheelhouse said ministers would now be able to make a decision based on the new policy.
Claudia Beamish, Scottish Labour’s energy spokesperson, welcomed the policy but sought assurance that it would be secure against future governments. She said:
“Onshore fracking is not a transition fuel but a toxic new industry, as shockingly proved in England and across the globe.
“No doubt Ineos and the whole industry will finally grasp the message loud and clear No fracking here.”
The Scottish Conservative’s energy spokesperson, Alexander Burnett, said of the decision:
“Today’s fudge of final position but not a legal ban is just more hypocrisy from the SNP.”
Referring to ethane imports by Ineos from the US, he said
“The minister talks of lowering our reliance on imported fossil fuels when today’s actions fails to recognise that tens of thousands of barrels of shale gas imported daily from across the Atlantic. So it would appear that the SNP support fracking where it will not cost them votes.”
“Ban would have put the issue to bed once and for all”
Friends of the Earth Scotland, which had called for a formal ban, described five years without fracking was “huge victory for campaigners and communities across Scotland”.
Mary Church, the organisation’s head of campaigns, said
“It is of course very welcome that Ministers have announced they are keeping the indefinite moratorium on fracking in place, but frustrating that today’s decision falls short of the full legal ban that would put the issue to bed once and for all.
“The inclusion of the policy of no support for fracking in the National Planning Framework would certainly strengthen the present position, but the Energy Minister acknowledged that he can’t confirm this will happen before the next Holyrood elections, which could see a new Government with a different approach to fracking in power.
“The Minister indicated that the door hadn’t been closed on legislating to prohibit fracking if evidence that further action was needed arose, and we urge the Parliamentary parties who are opposed to the industry to stay vigilant to the need and opportunity for this.”
- DrillOrDrop invited Ineos to comment on today’s decision. This article will be updated with any response.