Banning licence for Shale oil fracking: EIR release

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

Information requested

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport:

1) On what scientific basis are you banning licences for shale deposit fracture – please provide me with it.

2) Is your chauffeured car fossil fuelled.


As the information you have requested is 'environmental information' for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are required to deal with your request under those Regulations. We are applying the exemption at section 39(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), so that we do not also have to deal with your request under FOISA.

This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test'. Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption, because there is no public interest in dealing with the same request under two different regimes. This is essentially a technical point and has no material effect on the outcome of your request.

The answers to your questions are:

Question 1

The Scottish Government’s policy position is not a ban on unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.

In October 2019, the Scottish Government announced its finalised policy position of no support for the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. This means no support for development connected to the onshore exploration, appraisal or production of coal bed methane or shale oil or shale gas using unconventional oil and gas extraction techniques, including hydraulic fracturing and dewatering for coal bed methane.

Onshore oil and gas licensing was devolved to Scottish Ministers in February 2018 (with the exception of the consideration payable for each licence, which remains a reserved matter). It is wholly within the scope of Scottish Ministers’ powers to decide whether or not to invite new applications for licences for the purposes of exploring and developing unconventional oil and gas. However, following the announcement, last month, by the UK Government of the intention to lift the moratorium on shale gas exploration in England, Scottish Ministers have confirmed that their policy position of no support for unconventional oil and gas remains unchanged and they do not intend to award any onshore oil and gas licences for unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.

In the case of existing onshore oil and gas licences held in Scotland (of which there are two), the finalised policy of no support for unconventional oil and gas would be a material consideration for decision makers in the consideration of relevant planning applications and appeals. The Scottish Government’s policy of no support for unconventional oil and gas was reflected in the draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) which was laid in the Scottish Parliament on 10 November 2021. Alongside Parliamentary scrutiny of the draft, the Scottish Government ran a public consultation, supported by an extensive engagement programme, with comments invited by 31 March 2022. The Scottish Government is currently considering the information and views expressed during the consultation before a final version of NPF4 is submitted to the Scottish Parliament for approval this autumn. Once approved and adopted, NPF4 will form part of the
statutory development plan meaning its policies will inform day-to-day planning decision making.

Scientific studies and research commissioned
The Scottish Government’s finalised policy position of no support for unconventional oil and gas was the result of one of the most far-reaching investigations of any government, anywhere, into unconventional oil and gas. These investigations included commissioning research studies, undertaking public consultations and statutory assessments.

In September 2013, the Scottish Government convened an Independent Expert Scientific Panel to report on the scientific evidence relating to unconventional oil and gas. In July 2014, the Panel completed its study and submitted its report. The Panel concluded:

  • Public concerns around unconventional gas development include concerns about technical risks such as water contamination, public health and seismicity, but also wider issues such as social impacts on communities, effect on climate targets and trust in operators, regulators and policymakers;
  • In addition to the environmental impacts, the process of exploring for shale gas and coal bed methane and, if it happens, eventual scaling up to full production, will have social impacts on a local community;
  • Social impacts documented from shale gas and coal bed methane developments in the US and Australia have included job creation, local business investment and investment in infrastructure as well as population growth affecting local housing markets and local demographics; house prices; health effects on animals and people; increased truck traffic; and the impacts of development and protesters on stigmatising local communities;
  • Many of these social (and environmental) impacts can be mitigated if they are carefully considered at the planning application stage. Early consultation with communities is vital to identify potential impacts on a community, to scope out potential benefits and to develop plans to mitigate the impacts and enhance the benefits.

In 2016, the Scottish Government commissioned a series of research projects to explore the specific issues raised by the Independent Expert Scientific Panel:

  • Understanding and mitigating community level impacts from transportation;
  • Decommissioning, site restoration and aftercare – obligations and treatment of financial liabilities;
  • Understanding and monitoring induced seismic activity;
  • Climate change impacts;
  • Economic impacts and scenario development; and
  • Health impact assessment looking into the potential health risks and wider implications associated with exploration and exploitation of shale oil and gas and coal bed methane.

Public consultations
In January 2017, the Scottish Government launched ‘Talking “Fracking”: a consultation on unconventional oil and gas’, which invited views on the independent expert reports on the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, and on the future of the industry. The consultation received more than 60,000 responses; at that time, the second largest response received to a Scottish Government public consultation. Responses were received from a wide range of stakeholders, including individuals, local communities, industry and academics. Of those responses, approximately 99% were opposed to fracking and fewer than 1% were in favour.

On 3 October 2017, having considered the findings of the independent scientific evidence which had been commissioned and the analysis of the consultation responses, Scottish Ministers announced a preferred policy position of no support for unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. On 24 October 2017, MSPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Scottish Government’s preferred policy position.

However, this position was subject to statutory and other assessments before the policy-making process could be completed. From October 2018 to June 2019, the Scottish Government consulted on these assessments and related material.

The scientific evidence collected from experts and the views submitted in response to the various public consultations, in the period September 2013 to June 2019, were carefully considered by Scottish Ministers and informed the finalisation of their policy position of no support for the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. This position was announced on 3 October 2019 in a statement which referred to the extensive research commissioned which had highlighted a number of concerns, including the insufficiency of evidence on health impacts and compatibility of current technologies with climate change targets.

Question 2

All vehicles and drivers within the Government Car Service (GCS) are operated as pooled resources, therefore the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport does not have an allocated vehicle.

The GCS fleet is currently made up of 100% of ultra-low emitting vehicles: 13 electric and 15 plug in hybrid electric vehicles.

Most of the information you have requested is available from the Scottish Government website. Under regulation 6(1)(b) of the EIRs, we do not have to give you information which is already publicly available and easily accessible to you in another form or format. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website(s) listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.

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