PROSPECTS for the shale gas industry in the UK have suffered a setback after plans for controversial drilling technique fracking were blocked at a site on the Fylde coast in Lancashire.
Politicians in Scotland welcomed the decision to reject plans by energy firm Cuadrilla, which had wanted to frack and test the flow of gas following drilling at up to four exploration wells at a proposed site between Preston and Blackpool.
This is a great result for local communitiesAlison Johnstone, Green MSP
However, an MSP warned that companies may attempt to target Scotland for fracking opportunities despite the Scottish Government imposing a moratorium on the drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground.
Labour’s energy spokesman Lewis Macdonald said developers may view Scotland as a “soft touch” for shale gas exploration after Deputy First Minister John Swinney said he wanted taxes from the process devolved to Holyrood.
Mr Swinney said the Scottish Parliament should be handed powers to impose charges on drilling companies in a move he said was needed “purely for policy completeness” and not so Scotland could cash in on fracking.
The UK government, which still holds powers over licensing for fracking, announced it would not issue any further fracking licences until the power was devolved as part of the package recommended by the Smith Commission.
The UK government grants licences but ministers in Scotland can withhold consent through the planning system – with energy minister Fergus Ewing announcing a moratorium last year.
North-east Labour MSP Mr Macdonald welcomed Lancashire County Council’s decision to reject Cuadrilla’s fracking bid on the grounds of “unacceptable noise impact” and the “adverse urbanising effect on the landscape”.
But warning that energy firms could target Scotland, he said: “This decision shows just how controversial fracking can be not just in Scotland, but right across these islands.
“The more places in England say no to fracking, the more companies will put pressure on the authorities to develop in Scotland and the SNP government has said it wants to have tax powers over fracking in Scotland. Some companies may see the Scottish Government as a soft touch.”
Scottish Greens Lothian MSP Alison Johnstone, welcoming the decision in Lancashire, said: “This is a great result for local communities and campaigners, and will apply more pressure to the Scottish Government to turn its temporary moratorium into a permanent ban.”
SNP MSP Rob Gibson said the Scottish Government’s opposition to fracking – which opponents have claimed can cause earthquakes and creates the risk of poisoning drinking water – meant that the practice would not “see the light of day” in Scotland.
He said: “Of course it’s a welcome result as the release of fossil fuel is something we have to halt. It’s highly unlikely that any company would target Scotland as the kind of evidence that sunk this attempt in Lancashire would play heavily in Scotland.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “No fracking can or will take place in Scotland while the moratorium we have announced remains in place – a policy that has received wide support from both environmental groups and industry.
“We are taking a careful, considered and evidence-based approach to unconventional oil and gas.”
Shale gas exploration is credited with transforming the prospects for the United States’ energy industry in the past decade and the owner of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant has acquired full fracking rights for a 330sq kilometre area near Falkirk.
Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Murdo Fraser said Scotland should look at a “mix of technology to provide for energy needs”.
He said: “If we are not going to rely increasingly on imported gas to keep the lights on, we need to look at exploiting unconventional gas.”