Ministers have confirmed they are consulting on their “preferred policy position” of fracking being prohibited in Scotland, more than a year after the First Minister said the controversial practice was being banned “end of story”.
Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said responses were now being sought on the issue, with the consultation to last until December 18.
Following this, he said the responses would be analysed and published, with it being anticipated “ministers will inform Parliament of our policy on the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland in the first quarter of 2019”.
It comes after a Court of Session ruling in June 2018 which found that as a matter of law, there is no prohibition against fracking in Scotland.
That was in contrast to Nicola Sturgeon’s comments in Holyrood in October 2017, after the Scottish Government had stated its moratorium outlawing the practice would be permanently extended.
Ms Sturgeon declared at the time: “Fracking is being banned in Scotland, end of story. There will be no fracking in Scotland. I don’t think that position could be any clearer.”
Petrochemical giant Ineos mounted a legal challenge to the Scottish Government over its stance, which resulted in the Court of Session ruling that while there had been “ministerial statements to the effect that there is an effective ban”, the Scottish Government had accepted that this “did not accurately reflect the legal position”.
Lord Pentland said at the time there was an “emerging and unfinalised planning policy” expressing no support on the part of the Scottish Government for the development or extraction of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.
Environmental campaigners at Friends of the Earth Scotland called on the First Minister to “be true to her word” and implement a legal ban.
Head of campaigns Mary Church said: “Despite statements from the First Minister to the effect that fracking is being banned, Ineos’s legal challenge earlier this year exposed the Scottish Government’s current position as having no legal force.
“A future minority government could overturn the current policy not to support fracking with the stroke of a pen, and crucially, no recourse to Parliament or the will of the people.
“Only a legislative approach can ensure a robust, enforceable ban on fracking. The Scottish Government has the power to pass a law banning fracking, and a clear mandate from the people of Scotland to do so, with over 60,000 people responding to last years’ consultation calling for a ban.”
She added: “The Strategic Environmental Assessment published today highlights the many harmful impacts the industry would have if allowed to proceed.
The confusion caused by Ineos’s lawsuit and the subsequent decision by Scottish Ministers to extend the term of a central belt fracking licence only increase the pressure on the Scottish Government to legislate and draw a line under this issue for good.
“As the Scottish Government has launched this public consultation on the Strategic Environmental Assessment and partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment, I encourage submissions to continue to make it clear fracking has no place in a clean green future.”