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Background Information

Unconventional oil and gas techniques

Techniques such as horizontal drilling, dewatering, and hydraulic fracturing can be used to access and retrieve the natural gas contained within them.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking”, is used for shale gas but not typically coal bed methane. Globally, the use of fracturing techniques to stimulate the recovery of oil and gas has expanded greatly in the last decade.  Hydraulic fracturing methods have a wide range of applications, including enhancing water flow in aquifers used for drinking water.

The process of hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water into the source rock, which is typically located 1-3 km below ground, at high pressure so that the rock fractures and releases the trapped gas. This water also contains a small percentage of sand (~5%) and chemicals (<1%) to improve efficiency of the operation.

Extracting coal bed methane typically requires water to be drained from the coal seam to release pressure (known as dewatering), without hydraulic fracturing.

What is Underground Coal Gasification (UCG)?

UCG is an industrial process which utilizes high pressure combustion to convert coal in non-mined coal seams into gas. The technology used for UCG differs considerably from technology utilised for shale oil and gas and coal bed methane. UCG is not a fracking technique.


Directions were issued to planning authorities (unconventional oil and gas and UCG) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) (unconventional oil and gas and UCG) to give effect to the moratorium on unconventional oil and gas and a moratorium on Underground Coal Gasification.

On 03 October 2017, the Scottish Government confirmed its preferred policy position of not supporting the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, and that the Directions which gave effect to the moratorium in January 2015 will remain in place.

Scotland Act 2016 - Onshore oil and gas licensing

Onshore oil and gas licensing powers were devolved to Scottish Ministers on 9 February 2018.  Commencement of sections 47 to 49 of the Scotland Act 2016 provided Scottish Ministers with the powers necessary to grant onshore licences, to make further provisions in respect of licences within the Scottish onshore area and gave responsibility to Scottish Ministers for the administration of existing onshore licences. 

Powers related to taxation type payments imposed on operators under petroleum licenses and the power to revoke the licence for non-payment, remain reserved to the UK Government.  The Oil and Gas Authority is responsible for administering these issues on behalf of the UK Government. The Coal Authority remains responsible for all coal exploration licences on behalf of the UK Government.