Scotland Anchors Fracking Ban in Planning Framework

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By a vote of 91 to 28, the Scottish Parliament, known colloquially as Holyrood, has moved to anchor its ban on fracking in Scotland’s long-term National Planning Framework, to assure that it cannot be easily overturned. As an executive action, the ban could potentially be reversed, while changing the planning framework would require parliamentary approval, proponents of the measure underscored.  

The vote followed Holyrood’s decision earlier this month to continue its two-year moratorium on fracking, begun in 2015, “indefinitely,” as a public consultation showed that 99% of the 60,000 respondents supported a ban.

Embedding the ban in the planning framework “will ensure that the democratic will of parliament will remain, even if there is a change of government,” said Mark Ruskell, energy spokesperson of the Scottish Green Party, which along with the Scottish Labour party had encouraged the governing Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) to pursue this course.

The only Scottish party to oppose the parliamentary action were the Conservatives, who called it “ludicrous” and “anti-science.” The party said it was “utter hypocrisy” to block fracking, as Ineos would have to continue importing US shale to feed its plants at Grangemouth on the Firth of Forth.

Olefins and polyolefins giant Ineos, the largest holder of fracking licenses in Scotland and the UK generally, had already denounced plans to continue the moratorium. Speaking of a “sad day for those of us who believe in evidence-led decision making,” the Swiss-based group, whose shale activities are headquartered in the UK, had hinted it might sue Scotland to recoup the £50m spent on obtaining fracking licenses on the country’s soil.

Scottish energy minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said the government “has concluded it is in the public interest to say no to fracking. The steps we have taken have given immediate effect to this position,” he said, adding that this approach makes further legislation “unnecessary.”

Wheelhouse said the potential economic benefits of fracking in Scotland, which Ineos has repeatedly stressed, may have been exaggerated.

Some experts have concluded that the country may have only modest exploitable shale reserves.  What’s more, with 99% of respondents to the fracking consultation opposing the practice, “there is no social license to pursue it” at this time, he concluded.

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