Scottish government confirms ‘no support for fracking’ but steps back from ban

191003 Paul Wheelhouse SNP ScottishParliamentTV

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 Greens, 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.

12 replies »

  1. Perhaps not a legal ban but an effective ban all the same. I’m sure communities in England faced with the threat of fracking would be delighted if the same position was adopted.

    • Hi Kat, yes, the move to finalise the Scottish Parliaments investigation is welcomed. However the pulling back from making the position law a fully legal ban is perhaps being too careful.

      Watching the announcement itself, the Scottish Parliament, Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, seemed almost reluctant to make the final decisive ban on fracking.

      Akin to locking the front door of the Scottish Planning department to further applications but leaving the back door wide open?

    • I think Greta Thunberg answered this for you, Martin. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth – how dare you?” “You have stolen my childhood.”

      • Yes you are right iaith1720, it’s about human conscience, not inhumane con-science it’s about the futures of everyone, not the futures market for the few, it’s about health not wealth, instinct not extinct, common sense not capital offense.

        • Good morning ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, its Sunday again, and another frack free Sunday too. Cuadrilla have again demobilised their fracking equipment from Preston New Road for the third time since fracking was so trumpeted from the rooftops.

          Perhaps the EA, or the OGA, or the BGS, dependent upon crippling Non Disclosure Agreements, biased influence and sheer operational incometence. How they will investigate the extent to which these slicken sided smooth faults concerning how these unrecognised but clearly pre warned faults enabled seismic events to migrate from the well heads and how far and to what extent toxic fracking fluids have migrated to aquifers or nearby water supplies?

          The question that then arises, is how, if at all, that contamination can be reparated or indeed if at all. Where now are the claims that fracking does not cause earthquakes, and fracking fluids never migrate from well bores?

          The question then arises, that when such proclaimed to be “totally harmless” technologies such as fracking, is not that it can be done by what ever incompetent method, but that should it be done at all, and to what extent are the inevitable consequences of those operations liable to inflict harm and damage to local and wider environments and endanger peoples lives, property and health.

          We may ask ourselves why do we do these things to each other, when common sense, science, and intelligence, do not appear to have an equal say, if any say at all? And instead other less intelligent overbearing priorities emerge to drown everything else out so that only one objective is seen as paramount and all consuming?

          It is not hard to see what that priority is, and that is the insane fiat currency system that pervades and contaminates every thought and action of those who only see profit as of any import whatsoever. All other considerations are to be ignored, subsumed, buried and legislated out of existence.

          Money, and by that is meant real physical value based money, is merely a system of exchange. But that is based upon a reliable standard of recoverable worth and return of value such as the gold standard that used to stabilise the entire system with checks and balances. That Gold Standard has not existed since all of The Bank of Englands gold reserves were sold off.

          That move to abandon the gold standard goes back to 1931. And finally, some say illegally, since the auctions were not made public, when The Bank of England sold all its gold reserves in 1999 to 2002 under Gordon Browns government.



          What we have now is a fiat currency, and that is of no intrinsic value whatsoever, other than confidence and trust that it exists at all.

          Now vast amounts of worthless paper money can be printed off, called “Quantitative Easing”. That was previously and far more accurately known as “Devaluation” since every printing means the assumed value of that currency is then much much less. Just look at how much your shopping basket has fallen to the floor, or not, costs back in the mid 20th century and how much it costs now. Then you may see what quantitative easing of the fiat currency has done to your and everyone else’s wallet.

          Financial insanity isnt it. And yet there are those we see here on Drill or Drop that only refer to monetary value as if that is even a real consideration when peoples lives and health and that of the worlds peoples and lives and all life on the planet are even a factor in such calculations.

          That is what we need to expose and turn around, ecocide and human life must be given a legal right in all the courts of every country, or even protesting about climate change will not have a significant effect.

          This is an interesting video on “The Spiders Web – Britain’s Second Empire” that exposes how criminal elements have dominated the offshore tax havens set up to cushion the dying of the British Empire. Well worth a watch.

          Have a great Sunday with family and friends, and perhaps write to your MP and ask what is the present position and future position of your British Armed Forces and Security Services pre and post Brexit.

  2. So far it’s cost me a bottle of champagne. It was lovely, but budget range, so my delight is registered at about 2.9 out of 5.

  3. Who??

    I suspect the SNP will have to answer to the voters regarding costs, just like the Australian government had to answer to voters regarding costs. Take a look at the result there.

    Or, you could look closer to home (Seal Sands) and see what happens when costs of operation become too high in a particular environment. Not sure those poor individuals losing their jobs will be cheered up by Greta’s joyful delivery. Mr. Wheelhouse can say what he likes regarding the Scottish chemicals industry, but it is up to them to decide whether his words are empty or not. According to Sir Jim he has yet to make a profit in UK-ie. his costs of investment and refurbishment have yet to be covered, so, the SNP need to be careful, and without a majority, that is not within their gift.

    I have said before that Ruth Davidson would gain from this. Well, not her now, but her successor may.

    • Seal Sands? I read Ratcliffe said it would cost £200 million to bring up to standards. £200 million to a man with a fortune of £21 billion. It sounds more like a threat to blackmail the regulators into relaxing the rules.

  4. What a strange comment Pauline!!

    £200m for what return?

    I think you will find companies operating world wide have choices across the world. SNP will be aware of that, but they may just think they will get away with it. I’m not convinced they will. There is a reason a guy generates that sort of fortune.

    Of course, if Ineos had not spent out that money in Scotland in good faith they may just have had more to spend on Seal Sands.

    • Martin. “£200m for what return?”
      The return would be operating in a manner that complies with safety standards required. Of course, to someone who cares only about the financial value of something and what return it produces, that would be money wasted.

  5. No, it would be money wasted if the £200m was not going to produce a profit that would be more than £200m.

    It may come as a surprise to you Pauline but charities and businesses are quite different.

    I suspect charities delighting in donations from companies like Ineos are quite happy for them to operate to make a profit so they can receive income to support them.

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