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28/07/14 10:00

Scottish Government Welcomes Independent Report into Unconventional Oil & Gas

The Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, has welcomed a new report published today by an independent Expert Scientific Panel looking at unconventional oil & gas. The Panel was convened by the Scottish Government in September 2013 to review and report on the scientific facts available on unconventional hydrocarbons.

Mr Ewing said:

“I welcome this report, which is an important contribution to the debate around the potential development of onshore unconventional hydrocarbons.

“The Scottish Government has always been clear that our approach to this issue is evidence-based and this report helps us to do that. I pay tribute to the Chair of the Panel, Dr Chris Masters, and all the serving Panel members who gave up their time freely to produce this authoritative, yet dispassionate, analysis of the available evidence.

“The Panel report gives us an opportunity to consider some areas that may require further analysis. For example, it seems clear that much of the evidence relating to health impacts is either emerging or anecdotal and we will work closely with colleagues in Health Protection Scotland to consider the issues in the Panel report further.

“Equally, while it is clear from the report that there could be potential for an unconventional hydrocarbon industry in Scotland, the Expert Panel has also identified challenges and areas in the regulatory regime which should be looked at further.

“Unconventional oil & gas developments should only ever happen under a robust regulatory regime, and the Scottish Government takes this issue particularly seriously. Therefore the Scottish Government will set up a Working Group to consider the findings of the Expert Scientific Panel’s report in more detail and to ensure regulation of this industry is completely robust. We will announce the Chairperson, membership and remit of the Working Group in due course.

“The views of the local communities are of prime importance to us, and they will have an opportunity to feed their views and concerns into this group.

“This report also builds on our recently-published Scottish Planning Policy, which gave serious consideration to concerns over unconventional oil and gas with five main changes to strengthen planning policy. These include new rules on hydraulic fracturing, which will compel operators to consult with the public, and buffer zones to protect communities which will be assessed by planning authorities and statutory consultees.

“Any application for coalbed methane or shale gas projects must comply with the appropriate regulatory regimes, including SEPA’s guidance on the regulation of shale gas and coalbed methane.”

Notes to editors

1. 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.

2. 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.

The full report is available here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/07/1758