Shale gas moratorium widened to include coal-gas as Scottish Energy Minister delays Yes-No decision for two years (until after the next Holyrood elections)

fracking diagramThe Scottish Government has today imposed a moratorium on planning applications for underground coal gas developments – additional to the current moratorium on onshare shale gas exploration.

And it has also published a detailed two-year timescale for its evidence gathering and public consultation process on shale gas.

This will now conclude in June 2017 – more than a year after the 2016 Scottish general elections to Holyrood – thereby effectively long-grassing the key decision on whether to exploit the substantial resources trapped deep underground in the Central Belt, the Forth Estuary and the Lothians, where there is a particularly sweet-spot in the ‘Gulf of Gullane’

These two new announcements by the SNP government could also enable the party leadership to use them as a reason to drop the scheduled debate on shale gas from its annual conference on 16 October – thereby styming internal party dissent.

Fergus Ewing
Fergus Ewing

Sitting firmly on the political fence at Holyrood, Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing confirmed:

“In line with the Government’s evidence-led approach, boreholes relating to unconventional oil and gas will only be permitted when research and geoscience is the key driver and where they are delivered in collaboration with an independent research body, such as the British Geological Survey, or academic institution, and for the purposes of furthering the evidence base on unconventional oil and gas.

“Any proposed boreholes would also have to gain planning permission, environmental and health and safety consents before they are allowed.

“Ministers have held meetings with representatives of environmental non-governmental organisations, community groups, industry bodies and local government.

“Those meetings have helped us to prepare for the research and public consultation processes. As a result, we have planned a robust and thorough research process and a wide-ranging and participative consultation process.

“We should never close our minds to the potential opportunities for Scotland from new energy technologies – but we must also ensure that community, environmental and health concerns are all fully taken account of.

“The research we propose in this timetable will give all interested stakeholders important information to allow a more informed debate during the public consultation.”

UKOOGIn a diplomatic response, a spokesman for UKOOG – the industry association for the UK onshore oil operators group – said:

“We recognise that the public has concerns about shale gas extraction and need to be reassured about safety and environmental impact and we support the evidence-based approach being taken by the Scottish Government.

“However, many independent reports, including the independent panel of experts set up by the Scottish Government, have commented that a robust regulatory process is in place and any risks can be managed under such a regulatory regime.

“Scotland has a long record of producing oil and gas safely for the benefit of the nation, and we trust that a proper scientific investigation and understanding of all the issues will lead to the creation of a robust onshore oil and gas industry in Scotland.  

“We welcome the firm timetable the Scottish Government have set for this process to run, but it is critical to the future of the nascent industry in Scotland that this timetable is stuck to.

“Scotland needs an energy mix that covers all the nation’s needs. Four fifths 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 moratorium on onshore unconventional oil and gas was announced by Scottish Energy Minster Fergus Ewing in January, when he set out plans for a full public consultation and outlined a programme of research work including:

  • a full public health impact assessment
  • further work to strengthen planning guidance
  • further tightening of environmental regulation.

Since then the Government has undertaken a series of meetings with the key stakeholder groups including environmental NGOs, industry, local government and community organisations. Those meetings have helped inform the government’s decision to extend the planned work which will also now also include:

  • transport impacts research,
  • seismic monitoring research,
  • consideration of decommissioning and aftercare,
  • climate change impacts research,
  • and economic impacts research.

This work comes further to an independent Scientific Panel report on unconventional oil and gas which has already been undertaken.

Ministers have also published the planned research and public consultation timetable and confirmed that the public consultation will begin once the research process has been finalised and the results published.

This will give the public a chance to study the research reports before taking part in the public consultation. The detailed evidence-gathering phase will take place between now and next summer, with the consultation phase, covering engagement, public consultation and analysis, due to conclude in spring 2017.

In line with the evidence-based approach adopted by the Scottish Government, a separate moratorium on Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) will allow the necessary time for full and careful consideration of the potential impacts of this new technology.

The Scot-Govt. has been clear that these are two separate technologies, subject to different licensing regimes, and hence will be considered separately.

Consequently, Professor Campbell Gemmell, former chief executive of the environment protection agency SEPA, has been appointed to lead an independent examination of the issues and evidence surrounding UCG.

See also our POLICY PLATFORM expert article by Prof. Paul Younger, Glasgow University:

‘Shale gas may not offer an ideal solution to our energy needs. But banning it makes neither economic nor environmental sense.

Shale energy post conference logo  SEA

The UK Shale Energy Conference 2015 was held last month in Glasgow in September 2015.Visit the Scottish Energy Association (our organising partner) website for views, photos, videos and presentations;

See also: –

England steps on the (shale) gas with new £30m test drill programme, while Scotland stagnates

SNP’s Westminster Energy spokesman sets out the Five Fracking Tests for UK shale gas sector

When Scotland’s shale energy industry led the world

Shale and Safety: get the fracking facts right from the Royal Society of Edinburgh

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