Scots impose ban on fracking

4 Oct 17

The Scottish Government has imposed what amounts to a total ban on fracking, a decision that puts it at odds both with UK energy policy and the owners of Scotland’s biggest industrial complex.

Business minister Paul Wheelhouse told MSPs yesterday that a public consultation had generated more than 60,000 replies, some 99% of which opposed fracking. The decision to entrench a moratorium, first imposed in January 2015, will require a formal vote later at Holyrood.

Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats all oppose fracking, with only the Conservatives in favour.

“We have undertaken one of the most far-reaching examinations of unconventional oil and gas ever carried out by any government, anywhere,” Wheelhouse said.

“We have not taken the process or the decision lightly.

“The views expressed through our consultation demonstrated that communities across Scotland, particularly in densely populated areas where developments could potentially take place, are not convinced there is a strong national economic argument when balanced against the risk and disruption they anticipate in areas, such as transport, pollution, crucially, their health and wellbeing.

“It is clear that people across Scotland remain firmly opposed to fracking. This government has listened and taken decisive action.”

But the Scottish Tories angrily condemned the decision, claiming that it flew in the face of scientific opinion, even that of the Scottish Government’s own advisers. They said it would throw away major economic and employment benefits at a time when the North Sea oil industry has been in difficulty.

“This is a short-sighted and economically damaging decision which is nothing more than a bid to appease the green elements of the pro-independence movement,” Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said.

Energy policy is reserved to Westminster, and the UK government has been consistently supportive of exploratory activities to determine the potential for fracking in England.

But Scottish ministers have been able to use planning powers to block the technique.  Wheelhouse’s announcement means that local authorities will be formally told that the moratorium’s directive against approving fracking applications is in force indefinitely.

It means that fracking “cannot and will not take place in Scotland,” Wheelhouse said.

The decision, which Wheelhouse insisted was “evidence-based,” is subject to a full vote at Holyrood – though a majority in support of the ban is certain – and a Strategic Environmental Assessment.

A ban has been fought all the way by Ineos, owners of the Grangemouth petrochemical refinery, who hold a number of licenses to frack in Scotland. The company has pointedly given over capacity at Grangemouth to refining shipments of fracked shale gas from the US.

Operations director Tom Pickering called it “a sad day for those of us who believe in evidence-led decision making”.

Wheelhouse acknowledged that the chemicals industry held strong views on the potential benefits of fracking, but told MSPs: “Regardless of our position on unconventional oil and gas, our support for Scotland’s industrial base and for manufacturing is unwavering.”                     

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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