A partial victory for communities

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse has confirmed that while his Government will adopt a policy of no support for unconventional gas extraction (fracking), there will be no legal ban.

 This final “policy position”, is announced after 6 long years of government deliberation and a mass public consultation, when 60,000 people responded with a clear message that they want this environmentally damaging practice banned.

It is a major win for the local campaigns that form the Broad Alliance and for Community Councils across the Central Belt. Communities woke up to fracking before politicians. Dart Energy was ready to start coal bed methane capture at Airth and it was only the determined campaign of Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas that stopped them. Next we scuppered the insane plan to set fire to coal seams under the Firth of Forth – so-called Coal Bed Gasification. When thousands joined hands across the Forth Bridge, the government got the message and banned it. Most politicians knew nothing about UOG – we had to educate ourselves and them.

The Broad Alliance fought for a legal ban on UOG, but what we have is a policy statement that the government does not support it, and a presumption that any planning application from INEOS will be refused. This presumption will be in the Planning Framework, which does not come into force until 2021.

This position is potentially open to legal challenge for two reasons:

  • Last year the Court of Session ruled that a policy position does not amount to a ban on fracking, and is no more than a “PR statement”. 

  • The government confirmed there will be no new licences, but what about the two that INEOS already owns, and which the government renewed only this year.

 Broad Alliance chair Donald Campbell said it is “good news that fracking is blocked – it is a pity it isn’t banned so we could say ‘job done’”.

“The Broad Alliance members could not have done more – we have spent years campaigning in our communities, researching fracking, writing papers, drawing Ministers’ attention to worrying new research coming from the United States, and acting positively as the community stakeholder in the consultation. We highlighted the potential damage to air, water health and the massive contribution of methane leaks to the climate crisis.

 “On the positive side, there is a similar policy presumption against new nuclear developments in Scotland, and so far there has been no attempt to build new power stations on existing nuclear sites, as has happened in England where there is government support. We hope the same will happen with fracking but in all honesty, when it comes to corporations like INEOS, we don’t think hope is enough.”