8. Scottish Government's preferred policy position (Q5)
8.1 In December 2017 the Scottish Government issued a statement setting out its preferred policy position (PPP) on unconventional oil and gas. The statement summarised Scotland's approach to delivering a low carbon economy and described the evidence gathering in relation to unconventional oil and gas which had been undertaken from 2013 onwards.
8.2 The statement explained that, following consideration of the initial findings of the Expert Scientific Panel, a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas extraction was introduced in January 2015 and implemented through the Scottish planning system. The introduction of the moratorium provided an opportunity to undertake further research, public engagement and dialogue. Following this period of evidence gathering, the position statement concluded that, 'the research we have commissioned and considered does not provide a strong enough basis from which to address communities' concerns'. Therefore, in its December 2017 position statement, the Scottish Government confirmed their preferred policy position of (i) not supporting the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland and (ii) requiring that the Planning Direction of 2015 would remain in force.
8.3 In February 2018, onshore oil and gas licensing powers previously reserved to the UK Government were devolved to the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government position statement was updated in October 2018 to reflect this change, and to confirm that Scottish Ministers would discharge the newly devolved licensing powers in line with their preferred policy position (as stated in December 2017) if that preferred position were to be adopted.
Question 5: Do you have any views on the proposals contained within the Scottish Government's preferred policy position statement?
8.4 A total of 169 respondents (40 organisations and 129 individuals) commented at Question 5.
8.5 The predominant view expressed by both organisations and individuals was in favour of the Scottish Government's preferred policy position (PPP). The alternative view, expressed by a small number of organisations and individuals, was against. It was common for those who supported the PPP to ask the Scottish Government to go further and implement a full legislative ban on fracking.
8.6 The main issues raised by respondents are discussed below.
Views in favour of the Scottish Government's preferred policy position
8.7 Respondents who were in favour of the PPP reiterated their views that fracking should not be allowed in Scotland. As well as giving their support to the PPP, a range of these respondents also explicitly agreed that the PPP should be included in the National Planning Framework and recommended that the PPP should 'move towards finalisation'. Key messages from this group were that:
- Fracking is too dangerous to be allowed in Scotland.
- Shale oil and gas are not transitional fuels.
- Fracking will not help Scotland to achieve its climate change targets.
- Scotland should show leadership by banning fracking.
8.8 Moreover, a range of these respondents thought that the report published by the IPCC in October 2018, which updated the predictions on climate change, reinforced the importance of implementing the PPP.
8.9 The main concern expressed by those who supported the PPP was that the position 'not to support the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland' did not go far enough. These respondents argued that a ban, enshrined in legislation, was required. The reasons offered for this position were that:
- The Scottish Government must ensure that its position cannot be overturned by a future Scottish government and / or overruled by the UK Government.
- Communities do not have the resources to fight court challenges by international corporations or to use local planning laws to combat applications for onshore oil and gas exploration, and they should not be expected to do this.
- Scotland has devolved powers in relation to the licensing of onshore oil and gas developments, and it should use these to implement a total ban.
- Only a permanent statutory ban can offer assurance to communities potentially affected by fracking.
8.10 Respondents who were in favour of the PPP requested a number of additions to the final position statement including:
- The timelines leading to the discharge of the Scottish Government's powers
- An explanation of the phrase 'discharge of powers' – does this refer to the revoking of licences or something else?
- The reasoning in relation to the July 2018 extension of (and any future determination in relation to) PEDL 162
- Specific reference to the inclusion of underground coal gasification in any ban
- A clear articulation of the environmental legislation to be enacted to meet the intent of the Paris Agreement.
Views against the Scottish Government's preferred policy position
8.11 Business / industry / respondents and a small number of individual respondents were opposed to the PPP. Their arguments for holding these views included that:
- The PPP cannot be submitted for adoption unless it has been subjected to an environmental assessment in line with the 2005 Act; this has not been achieved.
- To not develop an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland would mean that Scotland would (continue to) rely on imported fossil fuels. This reliance on imported unconventional oil and gas would be incompatible with the Scottish Government's climate change targets and / or draft Energy Strategy.
- The PPP was not consistent with the Scottish Government's support for 'tight unconventional offshore plays'.
- The use of a 'perverse carbon accounting system' (which incentivises the importing of higher carbon fuels) is disingenuous.
- The PPP will not bring about the benefits identified in the position statement (e.g. increase in attractiveness of business opportunities, certainty for interested parties) and adopting the PPP would not mean PEDL licence holders in Scotland might (re)consider the hydrocarbon resource they wish to target.
- Whilst the PPP has been described by the Scottish Government as having the effect of bringing about 'an immediate and effective ban', this is not in fact the case; even if the PPP is adopted, Scottish Ministers will still be able to grant planning permission for individual applications.
- Adopting the PPP will increase the Scottish Government's reputation for being 'against science'.
8.12 In addition, these respondents emphasised that the PPP should include compensation for (current) licence holders as a result of breach of contract, and should also acknowledge that the cost of decommissioning extant wells will fall to the Scottish Government. Further, they wished a formal note to be produced explaining how a finalised policy of 'no support' would be expected to be applied in practice; this note should also be issued for consultation before the SEA process is finalised.
8.13 There was limited comment offered by the small number of individual respondents who did not support the PPP. One individual thought that 'limited fracking should be allowed', whilst another expressed the view that the development of this sector was necessary for Scotland's economic prosperity and employment potential.
Other views and issues
8.14 One community council suggested that the Scottish Government should adopt a 'wait and see' approach; this organisation argued that there was no urgency to develop fracking now, and it made more sense to decide later, once more evidence had accumulated. The key issue for this respondent was to ensure that communities had a major say in whether fracking proceeded in their area or not.