Eight years after communities on the frontline of fracking in Scotland first started fighting the industry, and a little under 5 years since Ministers put a moratorium in place, the Scottish Government has finally confirmed a position of ‘no support’ for unconventional oil and gas extraction.  

While the continuation of the moratorium is not the legislative ban we and communities opposing fracking across the country wanted, it is of course a welcome relief to have reached this hugely important milestone. It wouldn’t have happened without the groundswell of opposition to the industry that saw thousands of people take to the streets demonstrating, running public meetings and street stalls. A record 60,000 plus people responded to the ‘Talking Fracking’ consultation in 2017 calling for the industry to be prevented from going ahead: this was the largest number of people to respond to a Government consultation in a single voice in the history of devolution. 

Mr Frackhead anti-fracking tour of Britain visits Scottish parliament and the Palace of Holyrood House, 08/10/2014

Yesterday’s decision means we are hopefully reaching the end of the road in the campaign against against fracking. But there are still two very important loose ends to tie up. 

The fine details of the fracking decision

The first is getting the position of no support for fracking into the next iteration of the National Planning Framework (NPF). The Scottish Government agreed to do this back in October 2017 when Labour’s Claudia Beamish put forward an amendment to the Energy Minister’s motion to the Scottish Parliament to back what was then a ‘preferred’ policy position on fracking. Recent changes to planning law (won in a great campaign led by Planning Democracy) mean National Planning Frameworks now need to be agreed by Parliament, entrenching an important level of scrutiny that means if we do get the position of no support for fracking into NPF4 it will be hard for a future government to remove it. Not as strong as a legislative ban then, but pretty robust. 

However, on the current timetable, the next NPF is highly unlikely to be finalised ahead of the Holyrood elections in 2021. It is not clear what would then happen if a pro-fracking government was elected. And of course, the largest opposition party in Parliament are the Conservatives, who are in favour of fracking. 

The second is of course the planning application for commercial coalbed methane at Airth which has been hanging over that community since 2012. Local MSP Mark Ruskell pressed Paul Wheelhouse in Parliament yesterday, asking whether, now that a final policy position of no support has been announced, surely Ministers would be able to reject the application. The Minister carefully noted he couldn’t comment on whether the application would be rejected, but that the Planning and Environmental Appeals department would move ahead with the appeal, asking parties for any additional input before submitting its report. He did however confirm that Ministers will make a final decision on the application in line with the position of no support for fracking. Which will surely come as a great relief to the communities living in and around the area that Dart Energy had planned to develop as the UK’s first commercial unconventional gas project, and is now owned by petrochemical giant INEOS. 

Given that INEOS took a legal challenge against the Government’s ‘effective ban’ last year, we will also be keeping a close eye out for any proceedings arising from yesterday’s decision, and the decision on the Airth application when that comes. Of course, INEOS is still importing fracked gas from the US, an issue we are now trying to tackle through our work on Plastics and Circular Economy, which will be kicking off shortly. 

So it won’t be until we have passed these key points that we will feel fracking has truly been defeated in Scotland, but we are confident that we are very close to it. 

People Power wins again!

People power has won this victory, through persistent, creative, intelligent and collaborative campaigning and activism. It shows that together, we can make big change happen. And that is the note I want to end this blog on, because there’s an awful lot more change we need to make happen, but that’s for another day! 

A HUGE thanks to everybody who has played some part, big or small, in getting this far. 

Fracking campaign timeline

  • Spring 2011: Eight years of campaigning kicks off as Dart Energy announce plans for biggest coalbed methane project in UK at Airth near Falkirk
  • April 2014: Public Inquiry held into Dart Energy’s plans for CBM at Airth
  • Summer 2014: UK Government announce plans to remove owners rights to say no to fracking under their homes and launch 14th onshore licensing round including 20,000 km2 in Scotland. Meanwhile the British Geological Survey publish shale gas resource estimates for Central Belt.
  • August 2014: Ineos announce moving into shale gas exploration with purchase of 51% share in PEDL 133 in Falkirk
  • Autumn-Winter 2014: Growing anti-fracking movement organises huge demonstrations and street stalls engaging thousands of people across Scotland
  • January 2015: Scottish Government announce a moratorium on shale gas and coalbed methane
  • April 2016: Labour and Lib Dems joins Greens in calling for an outright ban on fracking, and the First Minister says she is ‘highly sceptical’ about fracking
  • June 2016: Labour, Greens and Lib Dems vote for a ban on fracking in Parliament. SNP abstention sees motion carried, meaning Holyrood formally supports a ban on fracking.
  • November 2016: Claudia Beamish MSP launches her private member’s Bill to Ban Fracking
  • November 2016: Scottish Government publish research on health, climate, economics, transport, earthquakes and decommissioning
  • May 2017: Over 60,000 responses to Scottish Government consultation on fracking
  • October 2017: Scottish Government announce an ‘effective ban’ on fracking
  • January 2018: INEOS and Reach CSG launch judicial review against Scottish Government’s ‘effective ban’
  • February 2018: powers over onshore oil and gas licensing, devolved under Scotland Act 2016 are finally transferred to Holyrood
  • June 2018: Court of Session rules there is no legally enforceable ban in place following a legal challenge from INEOS and Reach CSG
  • June 2018: Scottish Government grant 1 year extension to INEOS’s fracking license PEDL 162, in first use of newly devolved powers over onshore licensing
  • October 2018: Scottish Government published a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of its ‘preferred policy position of no support for Unconventional Oil and Gas’
  • March 2019: FoES publish legal advice from Aidan O’Neill QC that holds Scottish Parliament can and should pass law to ban fracking
  • March 2019: Scottish Government delay final decision on fracking, publishing an ‘addendum consultation’ to the SEA consultation
  • June 2019: Scottish Government grant further 1 year extension to INEOS’s fracking license PEDL 162
  • September 2019: new Climate Change legislation will require Ministers to report on their policies and proposals for onshore and offshore oil and gas extraction, including fracking, in plans to deliver emissions reduction targets
  • October 2019: Energy Minister makes statement to Parliament on final decision on unconventional oil and gas extraction

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Mary Church

Mary Church is Head of Campaigns at FoES.

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