Introduction and context
The future of unconventional oil and gas is an important issue for the country, which has proven to be both complex and controversial.
This section describes Scottish Government policy and our evidence-led approach to unconventional oil and gas. We have also provided background information on unconventional oil and gas resources in Scotland and the technologies involved in extraction.
A cautious and evidence-led approach
Unconventional oil and gas has sparked intense debate. Some have highlighted the impact that shale developments in North America have had on their energy and chemicals industries, and advocated that Scotland pursue similar opportunities.
Others have highlighted concerns over potential environmental impacts, the location of the reserves, which are mainly across Scotland's populated central belt (between Glasgow and Edinburgh) and issues on compatibility with Scotland's ambitious climate change targets, and called for an outright ban.
The Scottish Government has therefore adopted a cautious and evidence-led approach to unconventional oil and gas.
On 28 January 2015, the Scottish Government put in place a moratorium on developments involving hydraulic fracturing or coal bed methane. This means that that no such developments can take place.
The Scottish Government has undertaken an extensive and comprehensive period of evidence-gathering that examines the issues, challenges and opportunities presented by unconventional oil and gas.
This included commissioning an Independent Expert Scientific Panel to examine unconventional oil and gas in 2013, and then commissioning a series of research projects in 2016 to examine specific issues in more detail.
This evidence is summarised and considered in Part Two of this consultation.
Unconventional oil and gas licences and roles
Exclusive rights to oil and gas in a given area are governed by a licensing system. There are currently three licences for unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, all of which were issued by the UK Government (Figure 1).
The licences, known as Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences, grant the right to search for and extract oil and gas in a given area.
The licences do not give the licence-holder automatic permission to commence operations. A range of additional planning and environmental permits are required before a development can commence.
Figure 1: Map of PEDL areas in Scotland licensed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change ( DECC).
A number of organisations would be involved in assessing and regulating proposals for unconventional oil and gas developments. These organisation and their roles are summarised in Figure 2.
More information on the regulatory framework is provided on PDF page 50. Information on opportunities for community involvement in prospective developments is provided on PDF page 32.
In line with the Scottish Government's cautious and evidence-based approach to unconventional oil and gas, in 2014 the Scottish Government asked the UK Government not to issue any further licences in Scotland.
The Scotland Act 2016 passes responsibility for onshore oil and gas licensing to Scottish Ministers. These powers are due to be transferred in Spring 2017. The use of these powers will be informed by a suite of evidence, including this consultation.
Figure 2: Responsibilities of organisations involved in assessing and regulating unconventional oil and gas developments.
Oil and Gas Authority (devolution to Scottish Government underway)
Local Authority/Planning Authority
Scottish Environment Protection Agency
Health and Safety Executive (reserved*)
* Reserved means that these powers are the responsibility of the UK Parliament.
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