Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has confirmed that there will a moratorium on granting consents for unconventional oil and gas developments in Scotland whilst further research and a public consultation is carried.
UKOOG – the trade association for Britain’s fledgling onshore oil and gas industry – welcomed the temporary ban, but said there was no need for further local research.
No such licences have been granted in Scotland – and the Scottish Government is currently pondering a planning appeal for a coal-bed methane application around Airth by Dart Energy.
Last Friday, following the publication of the Smith Command Paper on proposed new Scottish parliamentary powers, Ewing wrote to UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey requesting that the UK Government do not issue further licences in Scotland as the powers over licensing are due to be devolved.
Yesterday’s Scottish Government move comes just days after the ruling SNP party’s MPs failed in getting a fracking moratorium imposed in England though the Westminster parliament.
In his statement in the Scottish Parliament, Ewing detailed the additional work the Scot-Govt. will carry out to ‘increase the evidence-base’ for decision-making on this issue. In particular, St Andrew’s House will:
- Undertake a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction
- Commission a full public health impact assessment
- Conduct further work into strengthen planning guidance
- Look at further tightening of environmental regulation.
Ewing told Holryood MPs: “I am announcing a moratorium on the granting of planning consents for all unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking. This moratorium will continue until such time as the work I have set out to Parliament today, including a full public consultation, is completed.
“The Scottish Government has taken a cautious, considered and evidence-based approach to unconventional oil and gas and fracking.
“I have listened carefully to concerns raised by local communities and environmental campaigners. We have put in place robust environmental regulation, tougher planning rules and successfully opposed the UK Government’s plans to end Scottish householders’ rights to object to drilling under their homes.
“We recognise that local communities are likely to bear the brunt of any unconventional oil and gas developments, particularly in terms of increased traffic and related emissions and noise impacts. These are issues that must be researched further.
“We have listened to legitimate concerns about potential negative impacts. However, we must also acknowledge that some take a different view and see opportunities in unconventional oil and gas extraction.
“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 never simply brushed aside.
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Energy Committee, said the SNP government was more interested in “political posturing” than making decisions based on scientific evidence. He added: “The Scottish government would rather play politics than take decisions in the best interests of the Scottish economy.”
National Planning policy
Scottish Planning Policy relating to onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction states:
• Confirmation that the concept of buffer zones should be applied to all proposals for the first time
• Putting in place an additional requirement for risk assessments to be prepared, using a source-pathway-receptor model, to ensure a transparent and evidence-based approach to assessing whether proposed buffer zones are acceptable;
• Making explicit that buffer zones will be assessed by the planning authority and statutory consultees, with a strong expectation that planning permission should be refused if they are unacceptable;
• Ensuring that operators are upfront about their plans and that communities are consulted on all unconventional gas developments, including close involvement in the risk assessment process;
• Requiring a fresh planning application (and public consultation) if permission was not sought for hydraulic fracturing but developers subsequently intend to undertake this process.
The Scot-Govt’s independent Expert Scientific Panel published its report in July 2014 saying that ‘more evidence is needed’ into the effects of unconventional extraction oil and gas.
But Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, said: “A whole range of experts – including public health bodies in the UK, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management and the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering – have all concluded that any health and environmental risks can be managed in a well regulated industry.
“However, we recognise that the general public have concerns about the issues around fracking and we welcome this opportunity to present the facts to the Scottish people.
“Many independent reports, including the independent panel set up by the Scottish Government1, have commented that a robust regulatory process is substantially in place.
“Scotland needs to produce its own oil and gas for both economic and energy security reasons. Historically, Scotland has led the way in the development of offshore oil and gas and should take this opportunity to do so again onshore. The onshore oil and gas industry looks forward to playing a very full part in this process.
“Scotland needs an energy mix that covers all the nation’s needs. Some 80% of Scotland’s heat and many everyday items come from natural gas. However Scotland in 2020 could be importing three quarters of its gas potentially from other less stable countries.
“Onshore gas and oil will benefit the Scottish economy, not only directly, with jobs created through oil and gas extraction, but also indirectly, as oil and gas is a critical raw material for the chemicals industry at facilities such as Grangemouth.
“The onshore oil and gas industry has also committed to a multimillion pound programme of benefits for local communities and stakeholders as well as boosting contributions to local councils.
“We have had a well regulated industry in Scotland for many decades. We have drilled over 30 wells in the last 20 years – one of the first hydraulic fractures in the UK took place in Airdrie nearly 50 years ago and fracking also took place inside Glasgow city boundary in 1989 at Easterhouse.”
Meanwhile, a local government council in England has voted to delay a decision on whether shale gas firm Cuadrilla can progress with two fracking projects in a case that is being closely watched by the industry and environmental campaigners.
Cuadrilla’s projects near Blackpool are expected to become Britain’s first shale gas production wells, kick-starting the government’s drive to develop the uncoventional resources to help stem a decline in North Sea oil reserves. The council will now open additional proposals for public consultation for at least two months.