Unconventional oil and gas: ministerial statement

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse updates Scottish Parliament on the development of Unconventional Oil and Gas, sometimes known as 'fracking'.

Presiding Officer, today’s statement on Onshore Unconventional Oil and Gas Policy is the conclusion of a policy development process that began as far back as 2013.

Over this period our energy and climate change policy has developed significantly. 

  • in 2013, our world leading climate change legislation committed to emissions reductions targets of 80% by 2050. Just last week our Parliament passed new legislation committing Scotland to net-zero emissions by 2045
  • likewise, no-one would have predicted in 2013, that renewable energy sources, such as offshore wind, would secure a CfD to produce electricity cheaper than existing gas fired power stations

There has been a dramatic change in public perceptions of the environment, the climate crisis and the expectations of Government to respond.

Throughout this period, our cautious, evidence-led approach to the future of unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland, including coal bed methane extraction and hydraulic fracturing – the latter commonly known as 'fracking' - has ensured we have reached a policy decision that is fit for purpose.

We have considered evidence gathered from a range of independent experts, undertaken the necessary statutory assessments, and ensured that people and industry across Scotland have had the opportunity to participate in the policy-making process in a constructive, inclusive and transparent way.

We have undertaken one of the most far-reaching investigations into unconventional oil and gas by any government anywhere in the world. This means that I am now able to confirm Scottish Ministers final policy position on unconventional oil and gas, a policy that is informed by facts, evidence, and analysis as well as public views.

Following careful consideration of the statutory and other assessments and related consultation responses, and all the previous evidence we have assembled, Ministers have concluded that an unconventional oil and gas industry would not be of sufficient positive benefit to Scotland to outweigh its negative impacts.

Therefore, based on the evidence on impacts and the clear lack of social acceptability, I can confirm today the Scottish Government final policy position is that we do not support the development of unconventional oil and gas – often known as fracking - in Scotland.

This means there is no support from the government 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. Let me now set out the detail behind that conclusion, before setting out how we will enact it.

In September 2013, the Scottish Government established an Independent Expert Scientific Panel on unconventional oil and gas; the Panel’s report, published in July 2014, highlighted a number of issues, which required further investigation prior to any policy decision being reached. Therefore, on 28 January 2015, the Scottish Government put in place a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.

On 08 November 2016, we published a set of independent expert reports considering the specific issues identified by the Expert Panel, covering health, economic as well as seismicity, decommissioning, climate change and transport impacts. This included a Health Impact Assessment undertaken by Health Protection Scotland which highlighted an insufficiency of epidemiological evidence on health impacts and that a precautionary approach to unconventional oil and gas is warranted on the basis of the available evidence.  

On 31 January 2017 we launched a comprehensive public consultation on unconventional oil and gas, Talking 'Fracking', which received more than 60,000 responses.

On 3 October 2017, in response to the publication of the consultation responses, I confirmed to this chamber that, having considered the suite of evidence, including expert reports and consultation responses, Scottish Ministers’ preferred policy was not to support unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland, subject to the necessary statutory  assessments, including a Strategic Environmental Assessment, being carried out prior to a decision on the final policy.

On 24 October 2017, following a parliamentary debate, this chamber voted overwhelmingly in favour of this preferred position.

In May 2018 the Scottish Government successfully defended a legal challenge to the  Scottish Government’s actions relating to unconventional oil and gas.

In October 2018 the Scottish Government published and consulted on the SEA Environmental Report, a partial Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment, and the preferred policy position – updated to reflect the devolution of onshore oil and gas licensing powers in February 2018.

The Environmental Report concluded that the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland has the potential for significant negative effects on the environment, even when taking account of existing regulation and consenting processes. It also concluded that the effect of the preferred policy position would be to avoid the environmental impacts associated with unconventional oil and gas industry.

Altogether, 2,577 responses were received to the 2018 consultation, comprised of 329 substantive responses and 2,243 standard campaign responses, submitted by supporters of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

These responses led the Scottish Government to form the view that it would be helpful to provide some further clarification on a number of points raised in response to the consultation documents, specifically regarding the preferred policy position and its objectives. On 30 April 2019, we published an addendum to the SEA Environmental Report, the preferred policy position statement and the partial BRIA, and invited further comments on the points covered. The addendum set out that the objectives of the preferred policy of no support were to ensure that in both the planning sphere and in relation to Ministers’ onshore oil and gas licensing and regulatory powers, the policy should:

  • (i) minimise the potential risk of environmental and health impacts by adopting a precautionary approach
  • (ii) promote the achievement of our energy transition goals; and
  • (iii) maximise the prospects of meeting the Scottish Government’s carbon emissions and climate change targets

A total of ninety-eight responses were received on the consultation addendum, comprised of 15 from organisations and 83 from individuals.

Presiding Officer, I can confirm that the analysis of the 2018 and 2019 consultations, and the responses to those consultations, will be published today, along with the final Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment, which has been informed by those responses.

The majority of responses to both the 2018 and 2019 consultations correspond with those received to our 2017 Talking 'Fracking' consultation, in which the predominant view of respondents, who live mainly within the densely populated areas of the Central Belt, where unconventional oil and gas development has been proposed, was not in favour of unconventional oil and gas. No consultation on unconventional oil and gas undertaken by the Scottish Government should be considered to be an opinion poll; however, the overwhelming response to each of these consultations indicates that there is no social licence for the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.

We have also considered our environment, economic and energy policies as part of this process.

The Scottish Government has been at the forefront of global action to limit climate change. Our third Climate Change Plan was published in February 2018 setting out our approach to meeting our statutory emission reduction targets to 2032, paving the way for Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon economy. The Plan is due to be updated in 2020.

Last week this Parliament passed Scotland’s new Climate Change Bill that contains the most ambitious statutory targets of any country in the World for 2020, 2030 and 2040.

In their significant report on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated the World needs to reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions, by 2050.

Scotland will do so by 2045 at the latest.

Presiding Officer, this will require new and existing policies to be developed or reviewed to ensure they are compatible with our targets.  This was evident in the recent Programme for Government, which had climate change at its core.

Our environment and economy are intrinsically linked. The transformation of the energy system in Scotland, as part of the drive to tackle climate change, has the potential to bring significant economic and social opportunities to individuals, businesses and communities. 

We will work to ensure these opportunities are realised to ensure a just transition. Similarly, securing a stable energy transition that harnesses Scotland’s renewable and low carbon energy potential, creating new jobs and supply chain opportunities is one of the key aims of Scotland’s Energy Strategy.

The Committee on Climate Change advice is clear, oil and gas will continue to have a role in the energy mix even once we have reached net-zero. However, Scotland faces a similar challenge to all advanced economies in developing cost-effective substitutes for hydrocarbons.

That means we require an approach that reduces demand for carbon-intensive fuel sources and lowers our reliance on imported fossil fuels. 

As outlined in our Programme for Government, our continued support for oil and gas exploration and production in the North Sea is now based on a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition.  This includes industry ambitions, as expressed in its Route map 2035, to become the first net-zero carbon basin in the world, at the point of production.

Presiding Officer, we considered carefully how support for the development of onshore unconventional oil and gas sits with our policies on climate change, energy transition and the decarbonisation of our economy.

We have concluded that it is incompatible.

We will continue to work closely with businesses and key industrial clusters to support action to accelerate cost-effective industrial decarbonisation measures, including the development and deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage, as well as hydrogen technologies.   

Scotland’s chemicals industry has conveyed strong views on the potential benefits of unconventional oil and gas for Scottish industry. While we do not share this vision, I want to be clear that our support for Scotland’s industrial base and our desire to develop our world-class chemical manufacturing sector is unwavering. We will continue to support the sector in a range of ways in the months and years to come but we do not agree that Unconventional Oil and Gas extraction is a requirement of the industry’s future.

Finally, Presiding Officer, let me set out what the policy position of no support for Unconventional Oil and Gas means in practice.

On 9 February 2018, the Scotland Act 2016 devolved to the Scottish Parliament certain powers to legislate for the granting and regulation of licences for onshore oil and gas. The finalised policy of no support for unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland enables us to set a framework for the exercise of planning  and licensing functions in respect of onshore oil and gas licensing devolved under this Act.

As a result of our decision fracking can only happen if licences are issued and we do not intend to issue any licences which would permit fracking.

To put this position into immediate effect, the Chief Planner has today written to planning authorities across Scotland, stating our finalised policy and confirming that a new planning Direction is being issued in respect of this policy. 

That action means that decisions on onshore unconventional oil and gas developments will be made having regard to planning policy and procedure, and within the framework of Scottish Government policy – a policy that does not support unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.

Our finalised policy will also be reflected in the next iteration of the National Planning Framework. Under the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 this must be approved by Parliament before it can be adopted by Ministers. Once the new National Planning Framework has been approved, no Government will be able to adopt a revised National Planning Framework to support unconventional oil and gas development without the backing of this Parliament - something I am sure will be welcomed across this chamber and beyond.

I am mindful of the fact that there have been calls from stakeholders, and from colleagues in this chamber, for a legislative ban on unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.

We do not consider that new legislation is necessary at this time to control unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland; a strong policy position enacted through devolved planning powers and licensing is – we believe – robust, evidence-led and sufficient. However that option remains open if there is evidence over time that further action is required.

Reaching a final decision on unconventional oil and gas is the culmination of careful and comprehensive evidence-gathering. We have not taken the process or the decision lightly. At each stage, we created opportunities for discourse and debate and I thank everyone who contributed to the process.

At the same time, since the moratorium in 2013, no unconventional oil and gas extraction has taken place in Scotland. The contrast with the gung-ho approach taken in England could not be more stark.

Presiding Officer, it is right that this Government sought expert, independent, scientific advice and that we took the time that was needed to assess the evidence and seek the views of the people of Scotland.

We have now reached a position that will provide the clarity being sought by communities and industry alike and will allow Ministers to implement a robust policy – that being that the Scottish Government does not support the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. 


Central enquiry unit: ceu@gov.scot

Back to top