Scottish Government Denies Ban on Hydraulic Fracturing

The Scottish government has been urged to explain its position on hydraulic fracturing after telling a judge that no ban is in place and ministers still have to make up their minds.

James Mure told the Court of Session that a legal bid by the petrochemical giant Ineos to overturn the “ban” should be thrown out. He said the company was wrong to claim there was a ban because ministers were still considering the issue and were expected to make to make a final decision in October.

He added, "The concept of an effective ban is a gloss. It is the language of a press statement. What they have done is to announce a preferred position on the issue.

"They have not yet adopted a position. Any position which the government will take has to undergo an environmental and strategic assessment. The court should, therefore, allow the policy-making process to go to finalization, which is expected in October this year.”

He also said that the case was not about “the merits or demerits of the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland” but was about whether statements by ministers were lawful.

The government imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in 2015 and then extended it indefinitely last year, claiming there was “overwhelming” public opposition to the controversial form of gas extraction.

Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said at the time that planning regulations would be used to "effectively ban" it by extending the moratorium.

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, later said at First Minister’s Questions that the statement meant hydraulic fracturing was banned in Scotland.

The Scottish Conservatives, who are in favor of the process, said it was a “staggering defence” from the government. Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, called the Scottish government “a shower” and tweeted that Humza Yousaf, the transport minister, told the Scottish National Party (SNP) conference last autumn that it was a ban.

Labour said the evidence in the case summed up the SNP administration’s attitude of “spin before substance.”

Claudia Beamish, the party’s environment spokesman, added, “Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers told MSPs (members of Scottish Parliament)— and more importantly campaigners and communities—that Scottish towns and villages were no longer at risk from fracking and the environmental damage it can cause because they had banned it. 

"Now the government's lawyer is saying the opposite, saying it is the language of a press release. SNP ministers need to explain this fast. It isn't sustainable for the SNP to be saying one thing on their leaflets, website, and in press releases and something else entirely in a courtroom."

Ineos, which runs the Grangemouth industrial complex and brought the case with Aberdeen-based Reach CSG, will argue that ministers made “serious errors” in their decision making.

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