The proposals from the UK Department of Energy (DECC) would allow companies to drill below people’s land without first negotiating a right of access. The UK consultation closed on Friday 15 August. It posed the following three questions:
Should the Government legislate to provide underground access to gas, oil and geothermal developers below 300 metres?
If you do not believe the Government should legislate for underground access, do you have a preferred alternative solution?
Should a payment and notification for access be administered through the voluntary scheme proposed by industry?
Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said that powers on this issue should be with Scotland, and that independence will give the people of Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government the power to consider policy on unconventional oil and gas in a cautious, considered and evidence-based way. He said:
“The Scottish Government believe that there should be an evidence based, cautious and considered approach to unconventional oil and gas, and that all of the decisions taken about it should be taken by the people of Scotland, through the parliament and government they elected.
“UK Government proposals to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to drilling under their homes flies in the face of that approach and that is why we object to them. It is also fundamentally an issue affecting land ownership rights.
“The gung-ho approach of the UK Government to the whole issue of unconventional oil and gas – often without any consultation with the Scottish Government at all – contrasts with our approach.
“Whatever your view on the issue of unconventional oil and gas – and it is clear that there are both opportunities and concerns – there is only one way that the people of Scotland can determine the approach in Scotland – including beneath their homes and land. That is to take the power to deal with this issue away from Westminster and that can only be done with the powers of independence.“
In June, Derek Mackay MSP, Local Government and Planning Minister, announced five new measures in relation to hydraulic fracturing, including bringing in a requirement that developments only proceed if communities and the environment can be protected, and that operators will have to consult with communities on their proposals.
Friends of the Earth Scotland Director Dr Richard Dixon commented: “The Scottish Government’s more cautious approach to unconventional gas extraction is good news for the people of Scotland and bad news for any operators hoping to make a quick buck before the shale bubble bursts.”
A number of (mostly SNP) MSPs have echoed Ewing’s view that DECC is ‘removing peoples’ rights to object’ to shale oil drilling under their own homes. This is a red-herring because oil and gas mineral rights are already nationalised under the 1934 UK Petroleum Act and the UK Government can, and is, offering petroleum exploration licences for onshore oil.
These are then subject to local planning development due process – when objections can be made.
Similarly, the UK and other governments – in the national interest – removed peoples’ rights to object to the use of air space above their homes (above a certain height) to facilitate international aviation.