No new fracking licenses to be granted in Scotland says minister

No licences or planning permissions will be granted for fracking in Scotland the government has announced.
No licences or planning permissions will be granted for fracking in Scotland the government has announced.
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No licences or planning permissions will be granted for the controversial practice of fracking as it is not compatible with dealing with the climate emergency, the Scottish Government confirmed today.

After months of delay, the government confirmed its "final policy position" and fracking will receive no support, although energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said an outright ban was "not necessary at this time".

Two years ago Mr Wheelhouse announced an "effective ban" on fracking in Scotland, but judges found this had no legal force after a court challenge was brought by petrochemical giant Ineos.

Today in the Scottish Parliament he said the government had come to its final position after "a comprehensive period of evidence-gathering and consultation". As a result the Scottish Government will not issue licences for new unconventional oil and gas (UOG) extraction techniques and that Scotland’s planning framework would also not support fracking.

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Mr Wheelhouse said: “The Scottish Government’s final policy position is that we do not support the development of unconventional oil and gas – often known as ‘fracking’ - in Scotland.

“That decision followed consideration of many factors including the significant negative effects that UOG development could have on our natural environment and the health and wellbeing of communities, while bearing in mind the overwhelming feedback from the public that this should not be permitted in Scotland.

“After a comprehensive evidence-gathering exercise, we have concluded that the development of onshore unconventional oil and gas is incompatible with our policies on climate change, energy transition and the decarbonisation of our economy.

He told MSPs the finalised policy enabled the government to "set a framework for the exercise of planning and licensing functions. As a result of our decision, fracking can only happen if licences are issued, and we do not intend to issue any licences which would allow fracking.

"To put this into immediate effect, the chief planner has today written to planning authorities across Scotland, stating our finalised policy and confirming that a new direction is being issued in respect of this policy."

However opposition parties still pushed the government to go further and introduce a fracking ban. Scottish Labour's energy spokesperson Claudia Beamish said: "Onshore fracking is not a transition fuel, but a toxic new industry - as proven in England and across the globe.

"No doubt Ineos and the whole industry will finally grasp the message loud and clear: no fracking here. "Crucially though, this is not a legal ban, which is what my Member's Bill could deliver.

"While I welcome the Scottish Government's no-support policy position today, and the robust evidence underpinning it, I seek assurance from the minister on how its safety will be secured from future governments or whims of future ministers."

READ MORE: Fracking court battle cost Scottish government £175k
Mr Wheelhouse said when the Scottish Government's National Planning Framework is brought into force, "no government will be able to change the National Planning Framework to support unconventional oil and gas without the backing of a majority in this Parliament".

He added: "We do not consider that new legislation is necessary at this time to control unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland. A strong policy position, enacted through devolved planning powers and licensing is, we believe, robust, evidence-led and sufficient.

"However, that option remains open if there is evidence over time that further action is required."

But Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett called the final position a "fudge", claiming it showed the "hypocrisy of the SNP".

"The minister talks of lowering our reliance on imported fossil fuels when today's actions fails to recognise the tens of thousands of barrels of shale gas imported daily from across the Atlantic," he said. ""So it appears the SNP support fracking when they do not think it could cost them votes."

Mr Wheelhouse responded: "This Government can only control the environmental conditions that apply in Scotland. Product which is sourced from outside Scotland is neither a matter for us in terms of trade - we don't have the powers over trade - and we don't have the powers over jurisdictions elsewhere such as the United States."

Tory MSP Dean Lockhart said: "It has taken six years for the Government to come to this position. This follows nine reports into fracking, four consultations and a court case costing the taxpayer £175,000.

"After all of this, can the minister clarify whether today's statement amounts to a legal prohibition on fracking, an extended moratorium, or is it just more PR gloss?"

Mr Wheelhouse said: "There's certainly aspects of the project which I appreciate communities and industry will have been frustrated by the length of time to get to where we are, but they are governed by statute and have to be done in the statutory process and therefore take time."

The updated position of the Scottish Government was inadvertently posted on its website on Wednesday, 24 hours before the statement was made, in what was described as a "clerical error".

Mr Wheelhouse apologised for the mistake and said steps had been taken to ensure it would not be repeated.

Scottish Greens Energy and Climate Spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP said today's announcement was a victory in the fight against fracking following a seven year campaign.

He said: “We’ve pushed the Scottish Government all the way on this issue, ever since we led the first debate on the subject in 2012, and have worked with communities across the country to highlight the major public health and environmental concerns that fracking presented.

"This decision emphasises that Greens continue to punch above our weight, and is just the latest example of Green MSPs leading the change in the Scottish Parliament."