The five main changes to the planning rules for applications for onshore unconventional (shale) oil and gas extraction have been spelt out in the new National Planning Framework announced by the Scot-Govt. They are:
- 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.
Planning Minister Derek McKay explained: “These new rules on hydraulic fracturing which will compel operators to consult with the public.
“In addition, buffer zones will be established to protect communities and these will be assessed by planning authorities and statutory consultees.
“Any application for coalbed methane or shale gas projects must comply with the appropriate regulatory regimes, including SEPA’s guidance on the regulation of shale gas and coal-bed methane.
Commenting on these measures introduced by the Scottish Government to protect communities from what it called ‘gas drilling and fracking’, a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Scotland said:
“Whilst we are disappointed that the Scottish Government has not taken this opportunity to block shale gas fracking and coal-bed methane drilling north of the border altogether, we cautiously welcome these new planning protections for communities.
“It is good news that the Government has closed a worrying loophole whereby developers seeking to extract coalbed methane could apply for permits to frack coal seams after planning permission had been granted, with no community consultation.
“The inclusion of buffer zone protection for communities and environmentally sensitive areas is welcome and means fracking companies will find Scotland a more difficult place to do business.
“We look forward to seeing further details on this issue in guidance promised by the Planning Minister. It is of vital important that this guidance ensures risk assessments and buffer zones cover the underground infrastructure associated with unconventional gas drilling and fracking, as key pollution risks can occur the length of horizontal bores.
“With the UK launch of a new onshore gas licensing round imminent, in which a vast swathe of the central belt of Scotland could be handed over to fracking companies, we urge the Scottish Government to go further and ban all unconventional gas extraction.”
SNP MSP Angus MacDonald said: “Although there are no fracking projects operating in Scotland, there is understandable concern in local communities across the country about what impact any potential development would have.
“That is why I am particularly pleased that the latest National Planning Framework has introduced tougher rules that anyone proposing a fracking project would have to meet.
“As well as ensuring that communities are fully consulted, these planning rules will mean that there must be stringent buffer zones to ensure that Scotland’s communities are protected from developments, and in particular I welcome that the policy makes it clear that the buffer zones will be assessed by the planning authorities and statutory consultees.”