Scotland Extends Ineos Shale License
Scotland’s devolved government has come under fire from environmentalist NGOs for its decision to extend Ineos Shale’s onshore exploration license for the Scottish central belt giant for a further year.
The petroleum exploration and development license (PEDL) covering 400 km2 is owned 80% by Ineos and 20% by Reach Coal Seam Gas. Issued by the UK government in 2008, before planning permission was devolved to Edinburgh, it allows fracking and other underground gas extraction technologies.
Ineos bought four-fifths of the license, labeled PEDL 162, from Reach in 2014. An adjacent license, PEDL 133, covering an area around the Firth of Forth, is also in the hands of the petrochemicals giant.
NGOs are especially concerned about the extension – for the second consecutive year – as Scotland has a moratorium on fracking that has been challenged by Ineos in the courts. They believe the license should have been revoked.
While the government has continued to stress that its “preferred policy position” is not to support fracking and other unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland, it is treading lightly on the issue in the absence of legal clarity as to its power in an ongoing UK-wide controversy over fracking.
Defending the decision to extend, Scottish energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said it would have been “a dereliction of our responsibility as a competent licensing authority not to consider the request for an extension, taking into account all the relevant factors”.
Some fracking opponents fear the Scottish ministry could back down in the face of pressure, depending on how the courts view an earlier move to simply extend a temporary moratorium indefinitely rather than try to institute an outright ban. Energy minister Wheelhouse has argued that it is unclear whether Scotland has this power.
In what many saw as a means of stalling on the hot-button issue, Scotland last year drafted plans for a Strategic Environmental Assessment and a Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment to help it decide which further steps to take.
A second round of extended consultation on the environmental and economic impact of the government’s opposition to fracking ended on June 25. Wheelhouse contended that the government is moving “at pace” toward finalizing its policy and that the extension would provide time for it to define its position and the licensees’ to calculate their response.