Scotland’s Independence White Paper: Fergus fudges fracking policy

Fergus Ewing, MSP, Scottish Energy Minister
Fergus Ewing, MSP, Scottish Energy Minister

In its Independence White Paper, the Scottish Government said that the development of unconventional hydrocarbon resources is at an early stage in Scotland.

“Decisions about alternative fuel sources, or the appropriate energy mix, will be a matter for future Scottish Governments,” it said.

Proposals will be considered under the normal planning processes under the appropriate regulatory regime – including SEPA’s guidance on shale gas published in December 2012.”

In effect, this means that the Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has long-grassed, if not, fudged, the fracking question in Scotland.

At its latest annual conference in Perth in October, the Scottish Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse, set out Scottish Planning Policy as it relates to onshore unconventional oil and gas.

He said: “Any proposals for the extraction of unconventional oil and gas extraction are considered through the planning process and the appropriate regulatory regimes.

“But there are no environmental permissions which would allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Scotland at this time.”

The new Scottish Planning Policy, which comes into force next year, will reinforce environmental and community protection and community consultation guidance in relation to planning applications for unconventional gas extraction. It also introduces the need for buffer zones in relation to such planning applications.

Amongst the changes to the policy it states that the planning system must “minimise the impacts of extraction on local communities, built and natural heritage, and the water environment.”

In addition the new policy says that proposals “should also provide an adequate buffer zone between sites and settlements.”

Wheelhouse added: “The UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change issue Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDL) in licence rounds which grant exclusivity to operators in the licence area. These licences however do not give consent for drilling and operators are still required to obtain planning permissions and a suite of other licenses before any exploration or development work can be carried out.

“As well as the planning process each proposal will be considered through the appropriate regulatory regimes and SEPA’s guidance.

“Proposals for coalbed methane or shale gas production in Scotland will be studied on their merits, informed by reliable and substantive information on availability of resources and the manner and practicalities of their exploitation.”

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