Scottish government says no to fracking as it confirms policy position

Key Points
  • Scotland's energy minister says the development of onshore unconventional oil and gas is "incompatible with our policies on climate change."
  • The Scottish government will not issue licenses for new unconventional oil and gas developments.
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The Scottish government will not support "unconventional oil and gas development" (UOG) in the country, it said Thursday. The decision follows what it described as, "a comprehensive period of evidence-gathering and consultation, including environmental and business assessments." 

Paul Wheelhouse, Scotland's energy minister, said the government's final policy position was that it did not "support the development of unconventional oil and gas – often known as 'fracking' - in Scotland."

Wheelhouse added that the development of onshore UOG was "incompatible with our policies on climate change, energy transition and the decarbonization of our economy."

Thursday's decision follows several years of discussion and debate. In 2015, the Scottish government announced a moratorium on UOG development. In 2017, authorities said they would not support the development of UOG in the country, describing this as "an effective ban on fracking in Scotland."

This was challenged in the courts by petrochemical firms Ineos and ReachCSG in 2018. They argued that the Scottish government had imposed, unlawfully, an indefinite ban on fracking.

A judge said the case was unfounded, concluding that while there had been "a number of ministerial statements to the effect that there is an effective ban, the Lord Advocate, on behalf of the Scottish Ministers, made it clear to the court that such statements were mistaken and did not accurately reflect the legal position." Lord Pentland added that there was "indeed no prohibition against fracking in force at the present time."

This week's announcement means that, in practice, the Scottish government will not issue licenses for new UOG developments. The country's planning framework will not support developments that use UOG techniques including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

"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," Wheelhouse said in a statement to the Scottish Parliament.

"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," he added. "However that option remains open if there is evidence over time that further action is required."

Commenting on the decision, the director of WWF Scotland, Lang Banks, said in a statement that the Scottish government had "listened to the thousands of people, campaigners and politicians across the country who have been calling for a halt to fracking and other unconventional fossil fuel extraction."

"Now that fracking won't be supported in Scotland, we hope politicians can start to rally round new and improved action to more quickly cut climate pollution from existing sources including our buildings, transport, and land," he went on to add.