Scotland Renews Ineos Shale License
Scotland has extended for one year a shale gas exploration license owned 80% by Ineos, while at the same time underscoring its continued opposition to fracking. Environmental groups expressed disappointment in the decision, and the opposition Scottish Labour Party demanded an “urgent review” of the government’s fracking stance
The license, known as PEDL 162, covering 400 km2 m to the south and west of Falkirk in Scotland’s central belt, was originally granted by the UK government to Reach Coal Seam Gas in 2008. Ineos bought four-fifths of the license in 2014. An adjacent license, PEDL 133, covering an area around the Firth of Forth, is also owned by Ineos.
In February of this year, the power to award, renew or refuse to renew licenses for activity on Scottish soil was devolved to the government in Edinburgh. Reports said 20 central belt community councils and other residents’ groups as well as local members of the Scottish Parliament wrote to energy minister Paul Wheelhouse last month, asking him not to renew PEDL 162.
Wheelhouse said the extension “does not alter the current position that we do not support the development of unconventional oil and gas,” at least as long as current environmental assessments about a longer-term preferred policy are in progress, stressing also that the area affected “does not have planning permission or the necessary environmental licenses.”
Critics said the renewal adds to the confusion surrounding the shale position of the governing Scottish National Party (SNP). The question of whether exploration can be legally carried out in Scotland was the subject of a recent judicial review requested by Ineos after the devolved government implemented a permanent moratorium on awarding new licenses that some called a ban.
During the review, which ended in mid-June, the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruled that neither shale exploration nor fracking has been legally banned. Following the ruling, Wheelhouse said the government had drafted plans for a Strategic Environmental Assessment and a Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment to help it decide which further steps to take.
Until the process is complete, he said no local authority can grant planning permission for shale gas activity of any kind.
Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said extending the Ineos license “only increases the pressure on the Scottish Government to move forward with its decision-making process, legislate to ban fracking and draw a line under this issue for good.” While saying “it is unlikely the operators will be able to do much in terms of advancing their shale gas ambitions in 12 months,” Church remarked that “it is an uncomfortable position for the Scottish Government to take, given its opposition to fracking.”