Scottish Government reaffirms opposition to fracking
The Scottish Government has reaffirmed its opposition to allowing fracking in Scotland, but stopped short of introducing a legal ban.
Confirming a finalised policy of no support for unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said coal bed methane and hydraulic fracturing, known as ‘fracking’, was not compatible with Scottish climate change policy.
But while opposition parties, including the Scottish Greens and Scottish Labour, have called for a legal ban on fracking, Wheelhouse said he did not believe new legislation was required.
The statement follows a legal challenge brought by Ineos against the Scottish Government’s decision to introduce a moratorium on UOG, with the petrochemical giant arguing the decision was unlawful.
The Court of Session ruled that there was "no prohibition against fracking in force" in Scotland after Scottish Government lawyers argued that ministers’ talk of a ban amounted to PR “gloss”.
Appearing in the Scottish Parliament, Wheelhouse said the position means the Scottish Government will not issue licences for new UOG development, and that Scotland’s planning framework will not support development using unconventional oil and gas extraction techniques.
Wheelhouse said: “After a comprehensive evidence-gathering exercise, we have concluded that the development of onshore unconventional oil and gas is incompatible with our policies on climate change, energy transition and the decarbonisation of our economy.
“Fracking can only happen if licences are issued and we do not intend to issue any licences which would permit that.”
More than 60,000 people responded to the Scottish Government’s four month consultation on fracking, with 99 per cent expressing opposition.
But ministers then launched a second consultation in March as part of plans to reach a final position.
Scottish Labour’s Environment spokesperson, Claudia Beamish MSP, said: “The SNP government must ensure that the necessary changes to the national planning framework are implemented within this parliamentary term.
“We are living in a climate emergency, and fracking must never be allowed to darken Scotland’s door.”
Meanwhile Green MSP Mark Ruskell said the decision “emphasises that Greens continue to punch above our weight, and is just the latest example of Green MSPs leading the change in the Scottish Parliament”.
He said: “Now the moratorium on planning decisions has been lifted ministers must move to reject Ineos’s application to exploit gas in the Forth Valley. Communities have lived under the shadow of a coal bed methane development since 2012 and in some cases residents have even struggled to sell their houses. The final nail in the coffin for fracking in Scotland would be a speedy rejection of this development bringing years of uncertainty to an end.”
But the position came under fire from the Scottish Tories, with energy spokesman Alexander Burnett saying: “The Scottish Conservatives have always supported achieving the right mix of energy supply, including more use of renewables.
"We understand the need to support new technologies and businesses, and recognise the need for oil and gas in the just transition to a low-carbon economy.
"However, today’s fudge of a final position but not a legal ban is just more hypocrisy from the SNP.
"Because the minister talks of lowering our reliance on imported fossil fuels when today’s action fails to recognise the tens of thousands of barrels of shale gas imported daily from across the Atlantic.
"So it would appear that the SNP support fracking where they do not think it could cost them votes.
"We stated previously that whilst the response to the Scottish Government consultation was substantive, consultations should not be used as opinion polls and responses must be considered on factual evidence.
"Although the SNP’s scientific panel highlighted issues, it also showed how these could be mitigated."
Meanwhile Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church also welcomed the policy position, but added that it was “frustrating that today's decision falls short of the full legal ban that would put the issue to bed once and for all”.
She said: “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.”