Leader comment: Ineos entitled to challenge Scotland’s fracking ban

A drilling rig to explore for shale gas at the Preston New Road site, Blackpool, Lancashire
A drilling rig to explore for shale gas at the Preston New Road site, Blackpool, Lancashire
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Ineos, the owner of Scotland’s biggest industrial site at Grangemouth, is quite within its rights to mount a legal challenge to the Scottish Government’s decision to effectively ban fracking.

If the move is unlawful as the company claims, a judge should rule accordingly and Holyrood may have to think again.

However, given the level of public and political support for a ban, it is likely that parliament will come up with much the same answer in just a different form of words.

During a lengthy consultation process, the SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens all came out against the controversial gas-extraction process, leaving only the Conservatives in favour. And, of 60,000 public submissions, 99 per cent were opposed.

Now it may be that opponents were more motivated than supporters, but if there is a “silent majority” in favour of ‘unconventional’ oil and gas then Ineos and the Tories will need to wake them up to win their case. A court may rule one way or the other on the legal position but if the people of Scotland and their democratically elected representatives are overwhelmingly against, we have a problem if a judge over-rides the ‘will of the people’. In England, fracking applications have united a curious mix of opponents, with environmentalists used to chaining themselves to trees and living in tunnels joined on the protest lines by wealthy Tories from the Shires concerned about industrialisation of the countryside.

However Ineos may feel it has grounds for optimism. After all, the Scottish Government’s own experts concluded that fracking could be done safely – if tightly regulated – despite various concerns about earthquakes, pollution of ground water and gas escaping into the atmosphere and horror stories from the US where the process created an economic boom.

But the decision in Scotland was taken with climate change and the global shift towards a low-carbon economy in mind.

When the Scottish Government announced in October that it would “not support” fracking in Scotland, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said ministers had a “moral responsibility” to tackle global warming and a duty to act in the “best interests of the country as a whole”.

At the moment, it appears that most of the country is opposed to fracking and a court ruling is unlikely to change their minds.