Today the Scottish Government imposed a moratorium on fracking, which means that no shale gas licences will be granted until the moratorium is lifted. Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing told the Scottish Parliament that the moratorium would allow for a full public consultation on the controversial drilling technique, and to commission a full public health impact assessment.
The decision comes only 24 hours after a failed attempt to impose a moratorium on shale gas exploration in the UK. Scotland, however, is excluded from the new UK Infrastructure Bill which denotes the rules and regulations for unconventional oil and gas exploration in the country, and therefore holds its own rights over fracking licences and the planning process.
Back in May 2014, the Scottish Green Party tried unsuccessfully to have fracking banned in the country. The attempt failed after Finance Secretary John Swinney, Labour MSP Iain Gray and Tory MSP Murdo Fraser all rejected the call for a ban.
According to The British Geological Survey, Scotland’s Midland Valley has approximately 80 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, 10 per cent of which might be technically recoverable. If this turns out to be true, it would satisfy Scotland’s energy needs for the next 46 years. Despite that the Scots are the least supportive of shale extraction of all the people in the UK. An online poll by Usurv found that 54 per cent of Scots were against the practice, and less than 8 per cent happy for it to happen elsewhere – a result similar to one obtained by an earlier poll by the University of Nottingham.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, welcomed the decision saying: “The Scottish government has acted decisively today to protect communities across the country and the environment from this unnecessary industry.
“While we are calling for an outright ban, a halt on the industry while a full examination of health and environmental impacts is carried out is very welcome. Scotland joins France, Ireland, the Netherlands and New York State in a long list of countries and regions which have acted to stop the unconventional gas industry. We are convinced that a proper examination of the mounting evidence of health and environmental concerns must lead to a full ban.”
On the other side of the fence, Ken Cronin, chief executive of UKOOG, the trade body that represents the sector, said that industry welcomed the consultation. “We recognise that the general public have concerns about the issues around fracking and welcome this opportunity to present the facts to the Scottish people. Many independent reports, including the independent panel set up by the Scottish government, have commented that a robust regulatory process is substantially in place. Scotland needs to produce its own oil and gas for both economic and energy security reasons.”
The decision will seriously affect the company INEOS which pledged in November to invest £640 million in shale gas exploration. The company has two licences in Scotland covering 120,000 acres but cannot now proceed with the development. Last night a spokesman welcomed the chance to provide “detailed information and expertise” as part of the public consultation.
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