The Scottish Government’s decision to ban unconventional oil and gas development is a truly momentous win for the anti-fracking movement, as Scotland joins the ever-growing list of states and regions to prohibit the industry. It has been met with celebration and relief across the country, particularly by those on the frontline of fracking here in Scotland who have been working for a ban these last 6 years. It is also being met with cheers around the world, in the countries and communities who have supported our struggle, many of whom are still fighting their own.
The language used by Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse in his statement to Holyrood was emphatic: the Scottish Government has concluded “that we will not support the development of unconventional oil and gas”, and the “indefinite” directions given to planning authorities “is sufficient to effectively ban” the fracking industry.
However, the celebratory mood amongst communities, activists and others who have long fought for a ban was dampened a bit by the chosen route to enforce the ban. The Government’s proposal falls short of committing to passing a law like recent bans in Ireland, Victoria and Maryland. This is on the basis that the powers over onshore oil and gas licensing devolved to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 2016 have not yet been handed over, due to delays with a commencement order. This is a technicality – these powers will come to Holyrood.
Securing the ban in law
What we wanted to see was a commitment to use these powers to legislate as soon as they are in place. A future Government could overturn this Government’s decision with the stroke of a pen; a ban in law would require Holyrood’s approval – much harder to achieve in a Parliament with several parties strongly opposed to the industry.
The Scottish Government has promised it will let Parliament debate and vote on its decision. This will likely take place in the week after Autumn recess. The Labour Party, Greens and Liberal Democrats are all opposed to fracking and therefore highly likely to support the Scottish Government’s decision. But they are also committed to going further than the Scottish Government has so far, with Labour’s Claudia Beamish leading the charge with her private member’s Bill to Ban Fracking. This could put the SNP in an awkward situation when it comes to the vote: if the anti-fracking opposition parties push forward with proposals to pass a law banning fracking, the Government could be forced to rely on the pro-fracking Tory party if they aren’t prepared to go this far.
The mandate to ban fracking
Over 60,000 people responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on fracking, the second largest number to engage in a consultation in the history of the devolved Parliament, with 99% calling for a ban. This is the largest number of people ever to express a single opinion to an official Scottish Government consultation, and clearly, the people have been heard. However, this also demonstrates the strength of the mandate to now push ahead and put the ban into law. We urge the substantial anti-fracking majority in the Scottish Parliament to now work together to ensure the strongest and longest protection for the people of Scotland.
You can contact your MSPs ahead of the vote asking them to work together to put the fracking ban into law: