The Scot-Govt has announced that it will not support the development of onshore oil and gas in Scotland – meaning there is an effective ban on fracking in Scotland.
Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse told MSPs that the practice <of fracking> “cannot and will not take place in Scotland” and that he wanted its ‘temporary’ ban on onshore oil and gas – imposed in January 2015 – to ‘continue indefinitely’.
His statement is not – yet – a ‘permanent ban’ on hydraulic fracturing because – as Wheelhouse announced last year – a final decision on such relies on a majority vote in the House of Parliament at Holyrood between now and Christmas.
And in line with statutory requirement, as with the previous ban on underground coal gasification, a ‘Strategic Environmental Assessment’ will be undertaken, following a parliamentary vote, to assess the impact of the government’s position.
So the ‘temporary moratorium’ continues as a de facto ‘permanent ban’ by the Scot-Govt’s refusal to allow local councils to accept any planning applications for, or related to, onshore oil and gas exploration in Scotland. And Wheelhouse’s statement yesterday changes nothing. Yet.
This is not – yet – a permanent ban, which may result in both politically and financially costly legal battles with the oil and gas industry in appeals to domestic courts in Scotland and Britain – as well as the EU – in the same way that the Scot-Govt’s plans to impose a minimum price for alcohol has been halted in Brussels.
In his statement, Wheelhouse announced that 99% of responses to the public consultation were in favour of a fracking ban and that the Scot-Govt had taken a ‘cautious, evidence-led’ approach to fracking.
This is despite both the evidence of two independent scientific reviews which concluded that onshore oil and gas could be carried out safely within the current, or an enhanced, regulatory regime and the fact that Friends of the Earth had been ordered to remove lies in its campaign materials by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Wheelhouse added: “I can confirm the conclusion of the Scottish government is that we will not support the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.”
Given that all parties with MSPs in Holyrood – except for the Tories – want to ban onshore oil and gas exploration – any motion to that effect which the Scot-Govt brings forward next month will almost certainly be carried.
But there is also the possibility of an unexpected pathway opening up for onshore oil and gas exploration in Scotland if the Brit-Govt re-acquires powers from Brussels under Brexit from the EU on licensing of onshore energy projects – thereby over-ruling the Scot-Govt ‘ban’.
However, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth commented: “Given that the UK Government has only just devolved fracking licensing powers to Holyrood, it is quite unlikely that it plans to take them back.
“But the Scottish Government and Parliament should act as soon as the powers are handed over to ban fracking in case this most obvious and powerful route to stop the industry is jeopardised by Brexit negotiations.”
Tory MSP Dean Lockhart said that “after years of indecision, the <Scot> government have taken a position and the Scottish economy is left behind.
He asked what impact assessment the government has carried out on how this ban will affect the economy and how many jobs will be lost, and added:
“If this decision <to ban fracking> has not been made based on the economy then the government is simply playing politics.”
For Labour, Claudia Beamish, MSP, the party’s Scottish environment spokesman, commented: “Labour has long argued that the climate change science is clear – we do not need another fossil fuel. Instead Scotland needs to develop forms of renewable energy with unionised and well-paid jobs.
“But extending the moratorium indefinitely is not as strong as a full legal ban, and could be overturned at any point at the whim of a minister.”
This subtle but significant procedural point was also highlighted by Patrick Harvie, MSP, leader of the Scottish Green party.
He said: “The Minister <Wheelhouse> hasn’t used the word “ban”, but rather seeks to make the moratorium indefinite. It’s unclear exactly what this means.”
And Labour MSP Daniel Johnson, added: “The SNP are claiming they are “banning fracking”. Without a legal change, it is no such thing. Merely a decision “not to do it at the moment.”
Mark Ruskell a Scottish Green MSP, added: “While welcome the Scottish Government’s clear intention to ban fracking, we are still a long way from turning a planning moratorium into a watertight ban that can resist legal challenge from powerful companies like INEOS.
“The Scottish Government must commit using a combination of powers over planning, environmental regulation and licensing to deliver a permanent ban. They must bring this back to the Scottish Parliament to be voted on after recess.”
The public consultation responses – many of which are ‘infected’ by lies and half-truths published in Friends of the Earth campaign material before it was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority – can be viewed here:
For example: Statement by Jock Wishart
What are your views on the potential climate change impacts of unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland?
1. What are your views on the potential social, community and health impacts of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland?
Fibbing by Friends of Earth with false fracking claims will make Scot-Govt’s final public consultation on shale gas worthless
Annex 1: Campaign responses
Avaaz online campaign
Broad Alliance postcard campaign
Broad Alliance: model answers to consultation questions
Friends of the Earth Scotland online campaign
Friends of the Earth Scotland postcard campaign
Greenpeace online campaign
Scottish Greens online campaign
South Lanarkshire against Unconventional Gas (SLAUG) letter campaign
Annex 2: Petition texts
38 Degrees online petition
Change.org online petition
Our Forth petition
Scotland Against Fracking petition
4 Oct 2017