INEOS today announced it would seek a judicial review of the Scottish Government’s “effective ban” on onshore unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
But the move came under fire from fracking opponents who branded it “desperate” and insisted the company is out of step with broader public opinion in Scotland.
INEOS, which owns two fracking licences in Scotland, is to argue that the ban is unlawful. An expert report commissioned by the Scottish Government had concluded that shale gas could be produced safely.
Tom Pickering, operations director at INEOS Shale, said: “The decision in October was a major blow to Scottish science and its engineering industry, as well as being financially costly to INEOS, other businesses and indeed the nation as a whole.
“We have serious concerns about the legitimacy of the ban and have therefore applied to the Court to ask that it review the competency of the decision to introduce it.”
The challenge marks the latest court battle for the SNP government. Plans to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol were held up in the courts for five years before ministers won a legal challenge over the drinks industry in November. The policy will be introduced in May.
Ministers have also been forced to overhaul controversial plans to introduce a Named Person for every Scottish child after a legal defeat to campaigners.
Fracking sees natural gases extracted from shale rock deep below the ground through a process of pumping in high pressure water know as “hydraulic fracturing.”
Scotland’s Midland Valley could contain trillions of cubic feet of shale gas, enough to power Scotland’s needs for decades to come, a report by the British Geological Survey (BGS) previously claimed.
The ban in Scotland is operated through a new planning policy of “no support” for hydraulic fracturing developments.
INEOS says there were “very serious errors” within the decision-making process, including a failure to adhere to proper statutory process and a misuse of ministerial power.
It has been claimed Scotland will miss out on the numerous economic and employment benefits that will be enjoyed by England which is pushing ahead with fracking. This includes an estimated 3,100 Scottish jobs. It could also sink an estimated £1 billion to be received by local communities as a result of a healthy shale industry.
Mr Pickering added: “If Scotland wants to continue to be considered as a serious place to do business, then it cannot simply remove the policy support that attracted that investment in the first place without proper procedures being followed and without the offer of appropriate financial compensation. In the light of these failings, INEOS has been left with no option other than to raise this legal challenge.”
The petrochemical plant at Grangemouth, Scotland’s biggest industrial site, is powered by fracked gas. But the firm are forced to ship the gas over from the US and Ineos want to explore the potential of the natural resources in Scotland.
Scottish Energy minister said Paul Wheelhouse, said: “We have taken a careful and considered approach to arriving at our preferred policy on unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government’s position was endorsed by the Scottish Parliament in October, subject to completion of a Strategic Environmental Assessment, and follows detailed assessment of the evidence and consultation with the public.”
At the time of the ban, the Scottish Government said 99 per cent of respondents to a public consultation backed the ban and further research “does not provide a strong enough basis from which to address these communities’ concerns”.
Labour’s environment spokesperson Claudia Beamish said: “Ineos is out of step with the public and the Scottish Parliament when it comes to fracking. The people of Scotland don’t want it to happen and the Scottish Parliament has said that it’s not the right option for Scotland – not right for our communities, our water, our air and the future of our planet.”
Ms Beamish suggested that the legal action may have been prompted because Ineos received “some kind of assurance” from the Scottish Government about fracking.
“We know that ministers met with Ineos on a number of occasions, so now we need to know what was discussed,” she added.
Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church said: “INEOS’s legal challenge against the Scottish Government’s ban on fracking reeks of desperation from an industry that is failing to get results anywhere in Scotland, the UK or elsewhere in Europe.
“Wherever fracking has been proposed it has been strongly opposed by local communities and subject to serious delays and mounting costs.”
Scottish Greens’ climate and energy spokesman Mark Ruskell said the firm should accept they “lost the democratic debate”.
He said: “Scotland doesn’t want or need fracking and Ineos should accept they lost the democratic debate in the Scottish Parliament, the evidence was there to ban fracking and that is what Holyrood has done.
“This isn’t the first time that big business has thrown their toys out of the pram when they don’t get their own way. This and the recent challenge on minimum pricing shows just how little corporations care for Scotland’s environmental and social wellbeing.”
But Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser backed the challenge, insisting Scotland risks missing out on major economic benefits.
“The SNP’s decision to ban fracking is rooted in dogma, and ignores the economic benefits it could bring to Scotland,” he said.
“Further exploration of shale extraction could also reduce the need for gas imports, and even help relieve fuel poverty.
“The Scottish Government’s own advisers know this, yet still ministers are sticking to this needless and potentially damaging ban.
“This is another day in court for an SNP government which doesn’t think its policies through.
“That’s embarrassing for Scotland’s reputation, and exposes the amateurish attitude of the SNP on a range of issues.
“Fracking could be explored safely if properly regulated – and the whole country could benefit as a consequence.”