Fracking in Scotland Could Be Banned Indefinitely

October 5, 2017 Updated: October 5, 2017

The Scottish government announced an “effective ban” on fracking on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said that an existing moratorium on fracking from 2015 that put planning approvals in the country on hold for unconventional oil and gas extraction, including fracking, would continue “indefinitely”.

“Fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland,” he said.

Fracking—or hydraulic fracturing—involves drilling deep into the Earth to reach shale formations. A mixture of water, chemicals, and other ingredients, such as sand, are then pumped into the rock at high pressure, causing the rock to fracture. This releases the gas and oil trapped in the rock, which is then extracted.

The technique is controversial because critics say that the fracking fluid can contaminate drinking water. There are also concerns that fractures in the rock could cause earth tremors.

Fracking advocates say that there are only risks to water if safety protocols are not followed, and that it is an economical source of energy that creates jobs.

The decision to ban fracking in Scotland came after the government held a public consultation that showed there was “overwhelming” support for the ban, the Scottish government said.

“Having taken account of the interests of the environment, our economy, public health and the overwhelming majority of public opinion, the decision I am announcing today means fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland,” Wheelhouse told members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs).

A vote in the Scottish Parliament that is expected to happen later this year would finalise the ban. But with only the Tories, which make up 24 per cent of Parliament, opposed to it, it is very likely the ban will continue.

The public consultation received over 60,000 responses, of which around 99 per cent were opposed to fracking and less than 1 per cent was in favour, the government said.

Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell welcomed the ban, but felt that it needed to be stronger.

“We are still a long way from turning a planning moratorium into a watertight ban that can resist legal challenge from powerful companies like Ineos [an oil and gas firm that owns a petrochemical plant],” he said.

Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, was similarly concerned that the extension of the planning moratorium did not go far enough. She said in a statement that the Scottish government should “go further than relying on planning powers to give effect to this ban, and instead commit to passing a law to ban the fracking industry for good.”

Scotland Fracking
A protest against Fracking in Scotland outside the SNP Autumn Conference on October 19, 2013 at the Perth Concert Hall in Perth, Scotland. (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

The Scottish Conservatives called the decision to ban fracking “short-sighted and economically damaging.”

“According to the Scottish government’s own scientists, the extraction of shale from Scotland, with the right safety checks, could be done safely,” said Scottish Conservative shadow finance secretary Murdo Fraser. “It could also support thousands of jobs and deliver economic benefits to communities.”

When speaking of the government’s own scientists, Fraser was referring to a review of underground coal gasification published in 2016, a spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives said. The review was lead by Professor Campbell Gemmell from the University of Glasgow, who was appointed by the Scottish government.

The review suggests that underground coal gasification, a technique similar to fracking but that uses fire to extract gas from coal instead of a water mixture that fracking uses to extract gas from shale, could be viable, but only if the industry can satisfy certain requirements.

In the executive summary of the report, Gemmell concludes: “At this point, it does not appear, that the tests could be met. In which case, it would appear logical, the current moratorium being justified, to maintain it, or, as in Queensland, [Australia] to progress towards a ban for the foreseeable future. As circumstances suggest, either arrangement could be revisited in due course.”

Fraser points out that the Scottish government is “happy to receive shale from the U.S. to refine at Grangemouth–a major industry in itself–yet doesn’t want to have that technology here.”

“It could also support thousands of jobs and deliver economic benefits to communities,” he said.

Ineos said the ban would be a blow to Scotland by negatively affecting jobs, energy security, and growth.

A 2013 report commissioned by the Scottish government identifies areas that need more research and public consultation. Like the 2016 report, it suggests that the industry might be able to develop safely subject to “robust regulation being in place.”

Tom Pickering, operations director at Ineos Shale said: “It is a sad day for those of us who believe in evidence-led decision making. The Scottish Government has turned its back on a potential manufacturing and jobs renaissance and lessened Scottish academia’s place in the world by ignoring its findings.”

A bagpiper plays from the prow of the JS Ineos Insight ship carrying the first shipment of shale gas from the United States as it passes the Forth bridge to dock at Grangemouth in Scotland on Sept. 27, 2016. (ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images)