Scotland may Seek Formal Fracking Ban
The hearing on the Ineos challenge to Scotland’s permanent moratorium on fracking ended last week, and no verdict is expected to come before October. But after the Scotland counsel’s unexpected argument before the Court of Session in Edinburgh that there actually is only an “effective ban” ban caused an uproar, the country’s devolved government now says it will press ahead with a formal ban.
Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said the government uses the planning system to block new fracking developments through directions to local councils, while at the same time acknowledging that a full legal ban can only be implemented after a full strategic environmental assessment is carried out. This has now begun, he told the Scottish Parliament, and could be completed as early as this summer.
In the parliament, Wheelhouse seemed to stop short of ruling out any license extensions, saying he did not want to prejudge any applications. The applications would be heard on a case-by-case basis, he said, “in regard of policies in place at the time.”
Opposition MPs from Labour and the Greens have demanded a “clear, and simple commitment” that licenses granted by the British government before the power to restrict fracking was devolved to Scotland will not be renewed.
In the hearing, Ineos had been expected to question the irreversibility of the Scottish moratorium- The government refrained from pursuing a full ban in the interest of quickly nipping any exploration activity in the bud. At the time, Labour and the Greens warned that anything but a full ban would make the government vulnerable to attack from exploration companies.
During the judicial review’s sole hearing, the chemical producer, which holds the largest number of exploration licenses in Scotland, had accused the government’s lawyer, James Mure, of dodging questions about whether Scottish authorities will renew existing licenses when the time for the first of them comes around next month.
According to reports, there are currently four active PEDL licences in Scotland.
In comments afterward, Tom Pickering, operations director of Ineos Shale, said the argument that there was no official ban represented a “staggering U-turn” against the government’s own rhetoric. Pickering also accused Scotland of taking an “Alice-in-Wonderland” approach to fracking and said confusion over the ban would cost jobs and investment.
The London-based conservative newspaper The Times recently named Ineos’ founder and chairman Jim Ratcliffe the UK’s richest person with a net worth of more than £21 billion. This, it noted, is more than the Scottish government’s entire budget of £32.7 billion for 2018-19. “Given that clout and the assets that he now controls, one might have thought that our Scottish government would be keen to do more business” with Ratcliffe, the paper commented.