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15/08/14 09:12

Ewing objects to UK plan to drill under homes without consent

Independence will take back energy powers to Scotland.

The Scottish Government are objecting to UK Government proposals which would remove the right of Scottish householders to object to oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing beneath their homes.

The proposals from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change will allow companies to drill below people’s land without first negotiating a right of access.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has said that powers on this issue should be with Scotland, and that independence will give the people of Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government the power to consider policy on unconventional oil and gas in a cautious, considered and evidence-based way.

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said:

“The Scottish Government believe that there should be an evidence based, cautious and considered approach to unconventional oil and gas, and that all of the decisions taken about it should be taken by the people of Scotland, through the Parliament and Government they elected.

“UK Government proposals to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to drilling under their homes flies in the face of that approach and that is why we object to them. It is also fundamentally an issue affecting land ownership rights.

“The gung-ho approach of the UK Government to the whole issue of unconventional oil and gas – often without any consultation with the Scottish Government at all – contrasts with our approach.

“Whatever your view on the issue of unconventional oil and gas – and it is clear that there are both opportunities and concerns - there is only one way that the people of Scotland can determine the approach in Scotland – including beneath their homes and land. That is to take the power to deal with this issue away from Westminster and that can only be done with the powers of independence.“

In June, Derek Mackay MSP, Minister for Local Government and Planning, announced the new Scottish Planning Policy. Following extensive public consultation and rigorous scrutiny in the Scottish Parliament, it was clear that concerns remained over buffer-zones and community engagement. Five new measures were introduced in relation to hydraulic fracturing, including bringing in a requirement that developments only proceed if communities and the environment can be protected, and operators will have to consult with communities on their proposals.

The Scottish Government convened a group of experts last September to review the scientific evidence on unconventional oil & gas, and on 28th July they published an authoritative and impartial report. The findings from the Independent Expert Scientific Panel have highlighted a number of issues that may require further work, including some suggestions on further tightening of our robust regulatory process. A Working Group will now look at these areas to take forward those suggestions.

Notes to editors

1. The DECC consultation states “The proposal will allow industry to drill below people’s land in order to access energy resources without first negotiating a right of access, providing it is at a depths of 300 metres or more.” (p28)

2.. The five main changes in the recently published Scottish Planning Policy relating to onshore unconventional oil and gas extraction are:

  • Confirmation that the concept of buffer zones should be applied to all proposals for the first time;
  • Putting in place an additional requirement for risk assessments to be prepared, using a source-pathway-receptor model, to ensure a transparent and evidence-based approach to assessing whether proposed buffer zones are acceptable;
  • Making explicit that buffer zones will be assessed by the planning authority and statutory consultees, with a strong expectation that planning permission should be refused if they are unacceptable;
  • Ensuring that operators are upfront about their plans and that communities are consulted on all unconventional gas developments, including close involvement in the risk assessment process;
  • Requiring a fresh planning application (and public consultation) if permission was not sought for hydraulic fracturing but developers subsequently intend to undertake this process.

3. There are a number of regulators involved in the regulation of activities associated with unconventional gas:

  • the licencing of onshore oil and gas activities is a reserved matter managed through the competitive bidding process for licences known as Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDL) and issued by the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC);
  • Drilling operations which propose hydraulic fracturing techniques ’fracking’ require an added layer of permissions in the form of a licence under the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 (CAR license). CAR licences are issued and conditioned by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) who carry out a risk assessment as part of its specific obligations to evaluate risks to the water environment when assessing such applications;
  • Operators must also provide details of all of the chemical additives proposed to be used in drilling and fracturing fluids to SEPA, who then use this information in their examination of any application for injection, to ensure the substances involved are of a type and at a concentration that will not cause pollution of the water environment;
  • An additional layer of regulation is applied to some surface activities connected to onshore gas extraction such as refining of gas, gasification and other heat treatments, combustion or disposal of liquid or solid wastes, which are controlled by SEPA through their Pollution, Prevention and Control License (PPC);
  • The Health & Safety Executive monitors unconventional gas operations from a well integrity and site safety perspective - safe working practices as required under the Health and Safety at Work Etc Act 1974, and regulations made under the Act - The Borehole Site and Operations Regulations 1995 (BSOR) and The Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction, etc) Regulations 1996 (DCR);
  • Any activity which intersects, disturbs or enters coal seams requires prior written authorisation from the Coal Authority;
  • Any operator wishing to develop onshore gas in Scotland also needs to seek planning permission from the relevant Planning Authority, and of course the usual public notification and consultation processes apply.