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28/01/15 15:50

Ministerial Statement to Parliament on Unconventional Oil & Gas

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing
Scottish Parliament
28 January 2015

Presiding Officer, the Scottish Government has long been concerned about the approach of the UK Government to the licensing of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.

Following the Smith Commission process, and given the licensing powers are coming to Scotland – something I campaigned for and welcome – it makes no sense for the UK Government to exercise them in Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s policy has been cautious, considered and evidence-based - the UK’s approach has sought to develop shale gas quickly, at any cost.

In particular, the Tory plan to remove landowner’s rights to object to fracking under their property is a disgrace. I formally objected to the UK Government plans and I was pleased that the UK will not now remove householders’ rights in Scotland.

Given the precedent of not acting on a policy area about to be devolved, the UK Government should do the same with onshore licensing and should not issue any further licences. I wrote to Energy Secretary Ed Davey last Friday to make this point.

This was also why SNP MPs backed the amendment in the Commons which called for a UK-wide moratorium on onshore oil and gas.

Presiding Officer, this Government takes the issue of unconventional oil and gas, including fracking, very seriously. There are a range of views on the issue and we have tried to listen to all of them as we have developed our policy.

We have listened carefully to concerns raised by local communities and environmental campaigners and have strengthened planning policy in five key ways - including the introduction of buffer zones for the first time.

However, we need to do more. We recognise that local communities are likely to bear the brunt of any unconventional oil & gas developments, particularly in terms of increased traffic and related emissions and noise impacts. These are issues that must be more carefully considered and be the subject of further research.

We are therefore working to further strengthen planning guidance and my colleague Alex Neil, as Minister responsible for planning, is taking this forward.

We have ensured strong environmental regulation is in place via the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and made clear that we wish to tighten this further. And, in partnership with my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Dr McLeod, work to take that forward will begin shortly.

Last summer, when the independent Expert Scientific Panel published their report, we said that we would look further at the public health aspects of unconventional oil and gas. I can therefore confirm today that we plan to commission a full public health impact assessment.

We have listened to legitimate concerns about potential negative impacts. However, we must also acknowledge that some take a different view and see opportunities in unconventional oil and gas extraction. The oil and gas industry, in particular, has a potential interest in this area for a number of reasons as do the Chemical Industry.

INEOS have indicated that they can use shale gas as both a fuel and a petrochemical feedstock for Grangemouth, and I am sure I do not need to remind members of the economic importance of Grangemouth to the Scottish economy.

And, of course, while much of the debate on oil and gas taxation has been about the revenues from our offshore oil fields, onshore extraction could lead to additional public revenues.

There is also an international dimension to unconventionals and we should have due regard to the experience and practice of other countries. If there are lessons to be learned then we must understand what those are and implement them here. We will seek to do that as part of our evidence-gathering activities.

Presiding Officer, I want to ensure that the voices of the communities likely to be most affected are heard in a more formal and structured way.

I am therefore announcing today that, in addition to the technical work I have referred to on planning, environmental regulation and assessing the impact on public health, Scottish Ministers will also launch a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction.

This will allow everyone with a view on this issue to feed it into government - a logical next step in the cautious and evidence based approach we have demonstrated to date, and an example of this Government’s commitment to community engagement.

It also means that longer terms decisions on unconventional oil and gas will be informed, not just by technical assessments, but also by a fuller understanding of public opinion.

Presiding Officer, I have set out this Government’s cautious, evidence based approach to date and the work we will do to build on and further inform that approach.

The further work that I have announced today - on planning, environmental regulation, health impact assessment and a full consultation process - will take time to complete. We will update Parliament on the timescales for that work in due course.

Given the importance of this work, it would be inappropriate to allow any planning consents in the meantime. I am therefore announcing today a moratorium on the granting of planning consents for all unconventional oil and gas developments, including fracking. This moratorium will continue until such time as the work I have referred to today has been completed. I will keep Parliament advised of the progress of that work. A Direction will be sent to all Scottish planning authorities today to give effect to that policy.

In order to ensure consistency in the regulatory regimes the Environment Minister, Dr McLeod, will issue a similar direction to SEPA for relevant new Controlled Activity Regulation licences.
Presiding Officer,

This Scottish Government has taken a responsible, cautious and evidence based approach to unconventional oil and gas extraction and my statement today sends the strongest possible message that we will continue to do so. When we assume responsibility for onshore licensing of unconventional oil & gas, rest assured that my colleague, Mr Neil, and I will deliver a robust, consistent and complementary licensing and planning system that will be developed through the evidence from our consultation and further research announced today.

We should never close our minds to the potential opportunities of new technologies - but we must also ensure that community, environmental and health concerns are never simply brushed aside. This government will not allow that to happen and I hope the actions I have announced today will be widely welcomed.