Parliamentary statement by former Minister for Energy, Connectivity and Islands: EIR release

Information request and response under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004

Information requested

In reference to matters detailed in the 2019 Parliamentary statement made by Mr Paul Wheelhouse MSP, wherein he stated the Scottish Government’s final policy position was not to support development of unconventional oil and gas. Can you provide the following information:

1. What was the basis of the Scottish Government’s conclusion that there was no social licence for fracking in Scotland?

2. Which theoretical approach to the social licence concept, e.g. in terms of its definition or measurement, if any, did the Scottish Government adopt or have in mind when reaching this conclusion?

3. Did the Scottish Government consider any of the criticisms of the social licence concept that have been raised in recent years? If so, how were these accommodated?

4. To what extent did the Scottish Government consider whether the absence of a response from a member of the public could be considered an indication of either tacit acceptance or indifference to fracking? If yes, what approach was taken?

5. Did the Scottish Government attempt to model or measure the level of social licence afforded by members of the public? If yes, what findings were produced? If no, was this a conscious choice?

6. To what extent did the Scottish Government consider whether the lack of a social licence, however defined and modelled, could be attributable to reasons beyond the public perception of the activity? For example, did the Scottish Government consider whether a link could exist between the absence of a social licence and the design of the prevailing legal regime isolated from the risks of the activity?

7. Did the Scottish Government adopt a process of ranking stakeholders by reference to the impact or effect of fracking upon them, or by their direct interest in the activity? If so, what process was undertaken and what ranking was employed? For example, did the Scottish Government seek to attach weight depending on the proximity of the stakeholder to potential fracking sites?

8. To what extent did the Scottish Government consider the level of social licence already afforded to distinct operators, as opposed to fracking as an activity, as part of its decision making? For example, did the Scottish Government ever consider that a specific operator with an existing social licence should be afforded an opportunity to apply for necessary legal permissions to operate?

9. Does it follow from the Scottish Government’s position on fracking that if the activity can gain and evidence a social licence, it will be supported by the Government and/or have its effective ban removed?

10. Does the Scottish Government have a position on what would need to be done by industry parties to gain a social licence for fracking as an activity? What evidence would the Scottish Government accept as proof of such a social licence?

11. If comparisons with a conventional licence are followed, who awards or grants a social licence? Similarly, by what procedure and standards of engagement are a “social licensee” judged?



Question 1 – As the former Minister for Energy, Connectivity and Islands stated in the Scottish Parliament on 3 October 2019 (the statement to which you referred in your request) the Scottish Government undertook one of the most far-reaching investigations of any government, anywhere, into unconventional oil and gas (which includes hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, and coalbed methane dewatering).

These investigations included commissioning research studies, undertaking public consultations and statutory assessments (information about these activities is available on the Scottish Government website here). The evidence collected over the course of these activities assisted Scottish Ministers make their decision in respect of the finalised policy position on unconventional oil and gas, as set out in the statement.

Questions 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 - The concept of social licensing was not considered by the Scottish Government in the course of the unconventional oil and gas policy decision making process.

However, it did feature in some responses to the 2017 Talking Fracking consultation. Over 60,000 responses to the consultation were received, including 21,077 standard campaign responses, 31,033 petition signatories and 8,425 substantive responses (drafted by respondents using their own words, and non-standard campaign responses).

Annex 1 of the consultation analysis report includes information about the various campaign responses received. The Broad Alliance - Communities Against Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction promoted the use of model answers by respondents to the consultation questions, including use of the sentence
“It is already clear that there is no social licence for fracking in the currently licensed areas”.

In addition to references to “social licences” in some campaign responses, of the 8,425 substantive responses received, 3,405 were published with the permission of the respondents. Of these, 66 included references to either “social licence” or “social license”.

The single reference to “social licence” in the Ministerial statement to the Scottish Parliament on 3 October 2019, was in acknowledgement of the use of this term by a number of respondents to the Talking Fracking consultation in 2017. 

Question 4 – An extensive campaign was conducted to raise awareness of the Talking Fracking public consultation. In 2016, a series of meetings was held with stakeholders to give them an opportunity to discuss participation and engagement in the planned consultation on unconventional oil and gas. The meetings resulted in a participation commitment report which informed the development of materials for the 2017 Talking Fracking consultation. This included setting up a website dedicated to the consultation, featuring links to reports of research commissioned by the Scottish Government and inclusion of discussion tool-kits to help communities and other groups participate in the consultation. Over 60,000 responses were received which was the second highest response rate to a Scottish Government held public consultation, at that time.

Question 7 – The questions in the consultation paper were developed in line with the Scottish Government’s quality assurance process (with a key role played by the Office of the Chief Social Researcher) to ensure that the consultation process was:
Transparent – provided access to clear, up-to-date and factual information at each stage of the consultation process.
Impartial – took all appropriate steps to avoid conflicts of interest and promote the preparation and presentation of unbiased information.
Participative – created opportunities for our stakeholders to actively participate in the consultation and its preparation.

Responding to the consultation suggested a direct interest, on the part of respondents, in potential “fracking” activity in Scotland. In responding to the consultation, respondents were free to indicate their thoughts on the potential impact of unconventional oil and gas development on their local communities. However, no additional weightings were applied to responses which included information specific to individual circumstances or location.

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