Scotland Extends Fracking Moratorium Again

08.10.2019 -

The Scottish government has again extended its indefinite moratorium on shale gas exploitation, but as before sidestepped the definitive ban that climate campaigners and more recently political parties such as Scottish Labour and Greens have demanded.

Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse stressed, however, that Scotland would not grant permission for any onshore unconventional oil and gas projects, including fracking, shale gas or coalbed methane extraction.

Wheelhouse insisted that the devolved regulatory powers of the Scottish Nationalist Party-led government’s planning and licensing systems are sufficient to avert any drilling activity but noted that regulatory legislation could be implemented in future, if needed.

“Fracking is incompatible with the Scottish parliament’s new target of cutting climate emissions to net zero by 2045,” which was passed last week, the minister added.

In Wheelhouse’s words, “there has been a dramatic change in public perceptions of the environment, the climate crisis and the expectations of government to respond.” As a result, “an unconventional oil and gas industry would not be of sufficient positive benefit to Scotland to outweigh its negative impacts.”

The government’s finalized policy position is to be cemented in the next iteration of the National Planning Framework, which must be approved by the Scottish Parliament before it can be adopted by the ministers. The goal is to push this through before parliamentary elections in 2021, though Wheelhouse said this cannot be guaranteed.

Once the new planning Framework has been approved, no government will be able to adopt a revised framework that would support unconventional oil and gas development without the backing of the Scottish Parliament, the energy minister said.

Anti-fracking campaigners nevertheless continue to cast a critical eye on the government’s commitment to a frack-free Scotland, many of them accusing the country’s leadership of foot dragging or at least ambiguity. Wheelhouse has also angered campaigners by twice extending an Ineos exploration license –- which the chemical producer has not yet used. This preliminary stage is not covered by the moratorium.

For its part, Holyrood has been wary of calling the moratorium a permanent ban, after arguing in response to a legal challenge from chemical producer Ineos in May 2018 that there was no enforceable ban. The resulting confusion could open the door for the moratorium to be overturned, anti-fracking activists fear.