Commenting on measures introduced by the Scottish Government today (Monday 23 June) to protect communities from gas drilling and fracking, Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church said:

“Whilst we are disappointed that the Scottish Government has not taken this opportunity to block shale gas fracking and coalbed methane drilling north of the border altogether, we cautiously welcome these new planning protections for communities.

“It is good news that the Government has closed a worrying loophole whereby developers seeking to extract coalbed methane could apply for permits to frack coal seams after planning permission had been granted, with no community consultation.

“The inclusion of buffer zone protection for communities and environmentally sensitive areas is welcome and means fracking companies will find Scotland a more difficult place to do business. We look forward to seeing further details on this issue in guidance promised by the Planning Minister today. It is of vital important that this guidance ensures risk assessments and buffer zones cover the underground infrastructure associated with unconventional gas drilling and fracking, as key pollution risks can occur the length of horizontal bores. 

“Given the complexity of the issues at stake and rapidly emerging evidence as to the health risks of onshore gas extraction, Government policy must be kept under constant review to ensure that communities are getting the protection they need, and local authorities are getting the right support to determine complex applications.  We welcome the Minister’s assurance that these policies could be revisited.

“With the UK launch of a new onshore gas licensing round imminent, in which a vast swathe of the central belt of Scotland could be handed over to fracking companies, we urge the Scottish Government to go further and ban all unconventional gas extraction. 

“Unconventional gas is unnecessary, unsafe and unwanted. Communities in the USA and Australia are already suffering from health impacts associated with the industry, and going after a new source of fossil fuel will seriously jeopardise our ability to meet future climate change targets, and put our important renewables industry at risk.”

ENDS

Notes

1. Scottish Planning Policy 2 is available at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/06/5823 

Policies relating to responsible extraction of resources are at: 243-248

Policies specific to unconventional gas extraction are at: 245 and 246. 

2. An EU Recommendation issued in January 2014 requires member states to implement minimum distance buffer zones between communities and water protection zones and fracking sites. It defines an installation as both above ground infrastructure and the horizontal bores to be fracked.  It also requires states to ensure that financial mechanisms are in place to ensure adequate clean up takes place. The Commission will review implementation of the recommendation in summer 2015 with a view to legislating if Member States have not gone far enough. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/integration/energy/unconventional_en.htm 

3. The new planning policy applies to applications for unconventional gas extraction that are not yet decided, including Dart Energy’s proposal for commercial coalbed methane extraction at Airth. The Department for Planning and Environmental Appeals who are to decide that application intend to take further evidence over the summer on the new planning policy before making a decision. The proposals are the most advanced in the UK. Dart Energy recently agreed to a buy out by the UK’s biggest fracking company, IGas. The deal is expected to be finalised in September.

4. DECC plan to publish a British Geological Survey study of the shale gas potential of the Midland Valley (Scottish central belt) before Westminster summer recess.

5. DECC also plan to launch the 14th onshore licensing round shortly in which 20,000 square km in Scotland will be offered to tender for shale gas fracking and other hydrocarbon exploitation. See http://blog.decc.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/SEA-and-licensed-area…

6. DECC have recently issued a consultation on plans to remove landowners rights to refuse access to companies who wish to drill and frack underneath their property. These plans are likely to apply to Scotland under reserved powers. See https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/underground-drilling-access