FRACKING will today finally be banned by the Scottish Government after six years of painstaking deliberations – only to face claims it is still not going far enough. 

SNP ministers had been due to announce they had finalised their position on the controversial gas extraction technology in a statement to MSPs at Holyrood this afternoon. 

However, the development was revealed accidentally on a government website yesterday.

 “On 03 October 2019, the Scottish Government confirmed its final policy position of no support for unconventional oil and gas,” it said. 

In the short-term, the ban will involve rolling forward a moratorium on councils issuing fracking permissions that began in January 2015.

READ MORE: SNP urged to 'live up to its rhetoric' and ban fracking 

But Holyrood opposition parties and environmental campaigners will demand the ban is enshrined in legislation, meaning it could be overturned only by Parliament.

In the longer term ministers want to embed a “strong policy” of opposition to fracking in the next National Planning Framework, which would set the rules on planning up to 2050.

This would effectively warn companies not to apply for a licence.
If a council went against the framework and granted permission for fracking, ministers would be able to call in the decision and refuse it on the basis of their policy. 

The same method has already created a de facto ban on new nuclear power stations in Scotland.

However, critics warn any ban based on policy can be changed more easily than a legislative ban and there are concerns a future Scottish Government could re-instate it.

In addition, the next National Planning Framework, known as NPF4, is not expected to be ready until the end of 2021, after the Holyrood election.

Friends of the Earth Scotland warned a change in parliamentary arithmetic could make even a policy ban hard to achieve, so it would be better to legislate for a ban now.

Critics say fracking, which involves pumping pressurised water and
chemicals into shale beds to release natural gas, is a climate change and public health risk. 

Advocates say it could support hundreds of new jobs and add millions to the economy.

Ineos, which imports US shale gas to its Grangemouth site as a chemical industry feedstock, has expressed an interest sourcing the gas from shale beds in the Central Belt instead.

READ MORE: Website blunder reveals SNP fracking decision 

The Government’s preferred policy position since 2017 has been not to support fracking, but until now it has agonised overcoming to a decision.
It set up an expert panel in 2013, introduced a moratorium in 2015, ordered more research in 2016, and then consulted on fracking in 2017.
In October 2017, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse appeared to have settled the matter one and for all, telling MSPs: “There is, in effect, a ban on unconventional oil and gas activities in Scotland.”

HeraldScotland:

 However the following May, after Ineos challenged the ban in court, the Government admitted there was no ban – that was a “PR gloss” – as it had yet to finalise its policy position.

Confirmation of that final position today is not expected to lead to another another legal challenge, however. 

Ministers feel the public mood, which was always hostile to fracking, has now swung even further against it because of climate change and the technology being linked to small earthquakes in Lancashire, something which has also made it less commercially attractive.

Mary Church, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “An indefinite moratorium, upheld by policy levers risks being overturned by a future minority administration with no recourse to Parliament. 

“While inclusion of a position of no support for fracking in the National Planning Framework would strengthen the present moratorium, this won’t happen until late 2021 at the soonest, and of course the Holyrood elections earlier that year could see a new Government with a different approach to fracking in power.

“A ban in law is needed to put the issue of fracking to bed once and for all.” 

The Scottish Greens also called for a “watertight legislative ban”.
MSP Mark Ruskell said: “This indication that the Scottish Government might provide some much-needed clarity is welcome, but the devil will be in the detail of exactly what the minister announces.

“A fudged moratorium only keeps the door to legal uncertainties open. I hope we see a commitment to a watertight legislative ban on fracking, but it needs to be part of a wider real commitment to reduce our reliance on gas.

“That means not only do we ban fracking under our own communities, but we also stop importing fracked gas from overseas.

“The climate science couldn’t be clearer. Fossil fuels need to be phased out. The Scottish Government should commit to a real ban today, otherwise their world-leading spin will remain just that.”

 Scottish LibDem MSP Liam McArthur said: “Across Central Scotland, communities on or near sites potentially earmarked for fracking have been living in fear of what the Scottish Government might decide.

By dragging their feet, ministers have imposed years of uncertainty on those people.

“Now the Scottish Government are finally set to commit to doing the right thing, it’s time for an all-out assault on Scotland’s emissions.”

Labour MSP Claudia Beamish added: “Fracking has no place in the climate and environment emergency. Leaving the door ajar means uncertainty for business, a toxic threat to our environment, and has troubled many communities for years now.

 “Communities should not have to wait another day. Today’s statement must deliver a concrete answer – no ifs, no buts, no fracking in Scotland.”