The Government has consistently taken a cautious, evidence-led approach to considering the potential exploitation of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. As part of that approach, we have ensured that stakeholders and the people of Scotland have had the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process in an open, inclusive and transparent way. Indeed, the Scottish Government has undertaken one of the most far-reaching investigations into unconventional oil and gas by any Government, which included a four-month public consultation that concluded in May. Our talking fracking consultation embodied the Scottish Government’s commitment to the full participation of local communities and stakeholders in decisions that matter to them and impact on them. It has been clear throughout the process that there are deeply held and sincere views on all sides of the debate, including in the chamber.
I wish to update members on the findings of our consultation.
I will also set out the Government’s preferred position on the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, which is based on the findings of our consultation and the extensive evidence that we have collated. As I have previously stated, that preferred position will be brought to the chamber for a full parliamentary debate and vote. We propose that that should happen shortly after the recess. As with our announcement on underground coal gasification on 6 October 2016 and in line with our statutory responsibilities, a strategic environmental assessment will be commissioned following the parliamentary vote to assess the impact of the Scottish Government’s position prior to its finalisation.
Before I update members on the consultation findings, it is important to set the context for that decision. A policy decision on unconventional oil and gas in Scotland does not exist in isolation; it must be viewed within the context of our longer-term ambitions for energy and the environment, manufacturing and the Scottish economy more generally, and, of course, our climate change responsibilities.
The main product from unconventional oil and gas reserves is natural gas, which is our principal source of energy for heating. Shale deposits may also contain natural gas liquids such as ethane. Those important raw materials for our chemical and manufacturing industries are used in a wide range of high-value products, including plastics, detergents and clothing.
The Government recognises that gas will be an important part of Scotland’s energy mix for the foreseeable future and that access to a secure and affordable supply of energy and raw materials is fundamental to the competitiveness and productivity of Scottish business and industry.
A strong and vibrant domestic offshore oil and gas industry can play a positive role in our energy system and is entirely consistent with encouraging a stable, managed transition to a low-carbon economy.
Achieving our vision for energy is crucial to our efforts to tackle fuel poverty and prevent the damaging effects of climate change as part of the global community’s fight to limit global temperature rises to below 2°C while pursuing efforts towards limiting those rises to below 1.5°C.
In addition to support for our manufacturing sectors, the programme for government includes a commitment to introduce a new climate change bill, which will set even more ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This Government’s view is that we have a moral responsibility to tackle climate change and an economic responsibility to prepare Scotland for new low-carbon opportunities.
Our comprehensive public consultation provided an opportunity for individuals, local communities, industry, academics and stakeholders to comment on and shape this policy decision. Today, we published the full analysis of the consultation responses. We received 60,535 valid responses—the second largest response to a Scottish Government consultation—which is a clear validation of our participative approach. Of the responses, 52,110 or 86 per cent were campaign responses or petitions, and 8,425 or 14 per cent were substantive responses. Of those who provided a substantive response and a Scottish postcode, nearly two thirds or 4,151 live in one of 13 local authority areas identified as potentially having significant shale oil and gas reserves or coal-bed methane.
The consultation was not an opinion poll—that simply would not have done justice to the range of issues that needed to be discussed and considered—but it was clear that the overwhelming majority of respondents were opposed to the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland.
Overall, about 99 per cent of the responses were opposed to fracking and fewer than 1 per cent in favour of it. Those opposed to fracking repeatedly emphasised the potential for significant, long-lasting negative impacts on communities, health, the environment and the climate; expressed scepticism about the ability of regulation to mitigate negative impacts; and were unconvinced about the value of any economic benefit or the contribution of unconventional oil and gas to Scotland’s energy mix.
Alternative views were received. Some respondents were either supportive of an unconventional oil and gas industry developing in Scotland or did not feel it was possible to come to a view on the available evidence. Those in favour of an unconventional oil and gas industry emphasised the potential benefits that they perceived for the economy, communities, the climate and Scotland’s energy supply. They said that the risks associated with unconventional oil and gas extraction were no greater than those associated with any other industry and argued that the development of a strong and robust regulatory framework could mitigate any adverse impacts.
Reaching a decision on unconventional oil and gas is the culmination of a period of careful and comprehensive evidence gathering. We have not taken the process or the decision lightly. At each stage, we created opportunities for discourse and debate. I hope that everyone in this chamber, regardless of their views on the topic, would acknowledge that we created meaningful opportunities for participation.
I will set out some more of the considerations that have guided my decision.
In reviewing the research findings, I had particular concerns about the insufficiency of epidemiological evidence on health impacts highlighted by Health Protection Scotland.
I also note the conclusion of the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change, our advisers on statutory targets, that unconventional oil and gas extraction would make meeting our existing climate change targets more challenging. Indeed, as the UKCCC states in its report, in order to be compatible with Scottish climate change targets, emissions from production of unconventional oil and gas would require to be offset through reductions in emissions elsewhere in the Scottish economy. Given the scale of the challenge that we already face, that would be no easy task.
I note that KPMG concludes in its report on the economic impact of an unconventional oil and gas industry in Scotland that, under its central development scenario, on average, only 0.1 per cent annually would be added to Scottish gross domestic product, should fracking be given the go-ahead.
I have also been mindful of the important reality that the potential activity associated with an unconventional oil and gas industry would be concentrated in and around former coalfields and oil shale fields in the central belt, which are among the most densely populated areas of Scotland. Our consultation demonstrated that communities across Scotland, particularly in areas where developments could take place, have yet to be convinced that there is a strong enough case of national economic importance, when balanced against the risk and disruption that they anticipate on matters such as the risks of pollution and the impacts on transport and their general health and wellbeing.
Although I am sure that an unconventional oil and gas industry would work to the highest environmental and health and safety standards, it is our responsibility to make a decision that we believe to be in the best interests of the people of this country as a whole. We must be confident that the choices that we make will not compromise health and safety or damage the environment in which we live.
It is also our view, having considered the matter in considerable detail, that the outcome of our public engagement shows that in the communities that would be most affected there is no social licence for unconventional oil and gas to be taken forward at this time, and the research that we have conducted does not provide a strong enough basis from which to adequately address those communities’ concerns.
Taking all that into account, and balancing the interests of the environment, our economy, public health and public opinion, I can confirm that the conclusion of the Scottish Government is that we will not support the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.
To put that position into immediate effect, we have today written to local authorities across Scotland to make it clear that the directions that gave effect to the moratorium will remain in place indefinitely. That action means that we will use planning powers to ensure that any unconventional oil and gas applications are considered in line with our position of not supporting unconventional oil and gas.
Let me be clear: that action is sufficient to effectively ban the development of unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland. The decision that I am announcing means that fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland.
My comments relate to the use of planning powers. Of course, this Parliament awaits the transfer of licensing powers that the United Kingdom Government promised and legislated for in the Scotland Act 2016. The commencement order for the powers was expected in February this year but has yet to be progressed by the UK Government. The licensing regime currently takes place under a European Union hydrocarbons licensing framework. We are concerned that the powers appear in the list that the UK Government provided of areas that it might reappropriate as a result of Brexit.
That would be unacceptable. I have, therefore, written today to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, to set out our position on the future of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland and to seek assurances that no such power grab will take place and that the powers that have been promised will be transferred to the Scottish Parliament as soon as possible.
Although that is important, I want to make it crystal clear that using our planning powers in the way that I have set out allows us to deliver our position, no matter what Westminster decides. I am aware that there is a proposal for a member’s bill on the issue from Claudia Beamish. However, the use of planning powers is an effective and much quicker way to deliver our policy objective, as with our actions on nuclear power stations. Legislation is therefore not necessary.
I acknowledge that Scotland’s chemicals industry has conveyed strong views on the potential benefits of shale for Scottish industry. I want to be clear that, notwithstanding our position on unconventional oil and gas in Scotland, our support for Scotland’s industrial base and manufacturing sector is unwavering. Manufacturing and the chemicals industry continue to play a crucial role in the Scottish economy, and we understand that a supportive fiscal regime, affordable energy, access to the right skills, and good infrastructure are all essential to future success. That is why this Government will continue to support industry in a range of ways in the months and years to come.
At the outset of devolution, one of the principal aims of this Parliament was to bring decision making closer to those who are most affected. That ethos has underpinned our approach in reaching a decision not to support the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland. Taking full account of both the available evidence and the strength of public opinion, my judgment is that Scotland should say no to fracking. That position will be reflected in our finalised energy strategy, which we will publish in December.
The next step in this process will be for the Scottish Government to lodge a motion for debate, to allow the Parliament to vote on whether to support our carefully considered and robust position on unconventional oil and gas.
I thank everyone who contributed to the process. It is right that this Government sought expert, independent, scientific advice and that we took the time that was needed to seek the views of the people of Scotland. The people have spoken. The time has come to move on.
On a point of order, Presiding Officer.
I presume that such an important decision was made by the Cabinet. If that is the case, why did not the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work make the statement to the Parliament and take questions? Is it because the cabinet secretary does not believe a single word in the Government’s document?
The Presiding Officer:
Such decisions are a matter for the Government and an exercise of collective responsibility. They are not a matter for the Presiding Officer or for the Parliament’s standing orders. We move to questions.
I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement.
After years of indecision, the SNP has finally made its choice in relation to fracking, and Scotland’s economy is left behind yet again. Time and again, independent assessments have shown the significant benefits that fracking could bring to Scotland’s economy. Up to £4.6 billion in additional gross value added could be generated by the industry as well as thousands of highly skilled jobs across Scotland. That much-needed economic boost and those jobs will now be created outside Scotland, thanks to the SNP.
Will the minister explain what estimates the Government has made of the economic impact of its decision and how many potential highly skilled jobs will no longer be created in Scotland?
The minister said that the Government has decided to ban fracking following an evidence-led approach. However, the Scottish Government’s own expert scientific panel concluded:
“The technology exists to allow the safe extraction of such reserves, subject to robust regulation being in place.”
If the ban on fracking is not based on an economic assessment or expert evidence on safety, does the minister agree with leading scientific commentators across Scotland that banning fracking is all about the politics and not the science?
As the minister who has led the process all the way through the consultation, I am here to answer for that process.
In response to Mr Lockhart’s points, I stress a number of things. First, the UK Government has ploughed ahead with a gung-ho attitude towards the development of unconventional oil and gas activities in England, with the consequent upset that it has caused in communities in Lancashire and elsewhere, and has not thought at all about the social licence involved with such a new industry in a densely populated area of England. We have taken a responsible view in our approach to the development of unconventional oil and gas, and we have listened to scientific evidence.
Secondly, Mr Lockhart says that we do not have evidence of the economic impact, but I direct him to the KPMG study, which clearly shows what a leading economic analyst believes to be the economic impact of unconventional oil and gas under three different scenarios. In the central scenario, which I set out in my statement just moments ago, it would amount to just 0.1 per cent of additional GDP for the Scottish economy. Against that, many local communities in the 13 local authority areas affected have suggested that there would potentially be negative impacts on local industries such as agriculture and tourism.
Mr Lockhart may not want to listen to the people of Scotland in those communities that would be most affected by unconventional oil and gas, but the Government is listening to the people of Scotland in those areas and we are banning unconventional oil and gas in Scotland as a consequence.
I welcome prior sight of the statement on onshore fracking.
Labour has long argued that we do not need another fossil fuel, but instead need to develop forms of renewable energy with well-paid unionised jobs. Let us be clear that the announcement is the result of communities’ and Labour’s pressure—specifically, my well-developed proposal to change the law to ban fracking in Scotland.
Although I welcome the indefinite extension of the moratorium, that is not as strong as a full legal ban and could be overturned at any point on the whim of a future minister. The proposals do not go far enough or offer the protection that my bill would offer. Will the minister work with me to ensure that we have a full legal ban in order to protect communities, the environment and future generations across Scotland?
I recognise that Claudia Beamish has a long-standing interest in the issue. However, I say gently to her that today we have put in place, through the measures that I have outlined, an effective immediate ban on unconventional oil and gas extraction activities in Scotland that is similar to the ban that we put in place for new nuclear power stations. That is important. We are able to control the activity much more expeditiously by writing to Greg Clark, setting out the Scottish Government’s position on unconventional oil and gas, as I have done today. The chief planning officer has also written to all 32 local authority directors of planning to update them on the position that I have outlined to Parliament.
We do not have licensing powers because they have not yet been transferred to the Scottish Parliament, but the process that I have outlined will help us to achieve the objective that Claudia Beamish seeks, which is control of activity. I understand that Richard Dixon of Friends of the Earth Scotland has tweeted that what we are doing is upgrading a moratorium to a ban. Other stakeholders are able to understand the impact of the policy, so I encourage Claudia Beamish to support us when the matter is debated following the recess.
I welcome the statement, which shows that the Scottish Government has, indeed, listened to communities and signalled its intention to ban fracking. However, we do not have a ban in front of us; the Government has merely extended its current moratorium—a moratorium that is legally shaky and open to challenge by large companies such as Ineos. When will the Scottish Government introduce a permanent ban by using Scottish planning policy, environmental regulations and licensing powers that do not require primary legislation?
I apologise, Presiding Officer; I am taken aback, because I do not think that Mark Ruskell, whom I respect greatly, listened to what I said in my statement. Using planning policy, we have put in place an immediate ban on unconventional oil and gas extraction activities in Scotland. We will seek Parliament’s endorsement of that position when, as we hope to do, we hold a debate following the recess. We will seek the support of Mark Ruskell, his colleagues and other colleagues across the chamber for the position that we have set out.
We believe that the position is robust. We have taken an evidence-based approach throughout. We have listened to all sides and concluded that we are unsatisfied in a number of key areas, and that such activity should not happen, based on the scientific evidence and the very strong views of communities in the 13 areas that are affected and more widely. I give reassurance—I tried to make it crystal clear in my statement—that there is, in effect, a ban on unconventional oil and gas activities in Scotland. We regard the process that we have gone through as being very robust.
I thank the minister for early sight of his statement, and I confirm that Scottish Liberal Democrats warmly welcome the decision—albeit that it was made via the scenic route—in effect to ban fracking.
Does the minister agree that opening up a new front of carbon-based fuels and energy production would do nothing to help us meet our climate commitments, and that much more still needs to be done if we are to ensure the necessary mix of renewables—in particular, storage technology—that our economy and society will require over the coming decades? What plans does he have, in that regard, that will build on the strong signal that has been sent out by today’s statement?
I welcome Liam McArthur’s positive remarks on the decision that we have taken, although I point out that what he described as “the scenic route” has involved the people of Scotland and key stakeholders in reaching what I regard as a considered and robust position.
On his point about renewables and storage, I very much accept that that will play a very strong part in where we in this country want to go. We continue to press UK ministers—I know that Mr McArthur is aware of this—for supportive decisions on remote wind projects on the islands, interconnection between the islands and the mainland and investment in pumped hydro storage and other forms of grid-scale storage that will allow us to have a truly sustainable energy future for Scotland.
I want to say more on that, Presiding Officer, but I am aware of the lack of time. We will, of course, put full details in our finalised energy strategy, which we will publish in December. I hope that it will be one that Mr McArthur and his colleagues can support.
I warmly welcome the minister’s announcement, as will the majority of my constituents in Falkirk East. I also welcome the cautious evidence-led approach that has been taken by the Scottish Government.
Given that fracking is—subject, of course, to the forthcoming debate and vote in Parliament—in effect to be banned, which will give residents throughout central Scotland peace of mind, can the minister give me an assurance that the Government will remain focused on ensuring that industry in Grangemouth is supported and encouraged, while bearing in mind that that industry sits cheek by jowl with the 18,000 residents of the port, not to mention the wider population in Falkirk district?
I acknowledge the points that Mr MacDonald has raised about the importance of listening to communities’ views in his area in Falkirk, while bearing in mind the important future for the chemical industry in Scotland.
As I have tried to make clear in my statement, regardless of our position on unconventional oil and gas, our support for our industrial base and manufacturing is unwavering. Manufacturing and industry continue to play a crucial role in the Scottish economy, as I set out.
I also said in my statement that we understand that a supportive fiscal regime, affordable energy costs, access to the right skills and improved infrastructure for the sector are all essential if it is to remain competitive. We will also work with UK Government colleagues on the industrial strategy and on ensuring that any sector deals are supportive of investment in Scotland. We have already taken steps to support energy-intensive industries in maintaining their competitiveness in terms of energy costs. I assure Mr MacDonald that we will work very closely with key employers in his constituency.
In finishing, I want to reflect on the fact that 393 substantive responses were submitted by people in Falkirk, in addition to petition and campaign responses, so Mr MacDonald can be very comforted by the fact that his constituents played an active role in the consultation.
The announcement of a ban is a massive slap in the face to Scottish academia, engineers, geologists, industry experts and many more highly skilled individuals. They have been dealt a heavy blow here today. In can-do Scotland, which is known world wide for its pioneering technologies and for safety and responsibility, what kind of message does the minister think he is sending to people in academia and scientific research, people who work in the industry whose jobs have now been put at risk, and people who could have been attracted to Scotland to work in this new industry?
We have taken a cautious and evidence-based approach. The UK Government pressed on in a gung-ho fashion, caring not for the views of communities and areas that are affected by unconventional oil and gas extraction. We have taken a different approach. As I set out today, we have listened to industry on the pros and cons of unconventional oil and gas. We have had to take a balanced decision based on the needs of our environment, our important commitments on climate change and the views of communities. We are very mindful of the impact on business of all the decisions that the Government makes, and we have taken very seriously the business views that have been represented to us.
John Scott characterises our response as irresponsible. I suggest that we have been anything but irresponsible, and have taken a very responsible approach. We have listened and considered, and we have reflected that 13 areas of the country that would most likely be involved in unconventional oil and gas activity do not support it. It is very important that the views of the people of Scotland are taken into account. I encourage Mr Scott, on behalf of his constituents, who are in an area of the country that is in the great midland valley, to consider his remarks very carefully.
The Government has made a clear statement of intent about unconventional oil and gas practices in Scotland. The conventional practices of our domestic oil and gas industry are of great importance to people in my area. What continuing support will the Scottish Government give to the sector to get people into work?
Gillian Martin raises a very important point that I referred to in my statement. We strongly support the oil and gas industry in its offshore activities. With the UK Government, we have jointly funded a £180 million oil and gas technology centre, the innovation hub for which was launched yesterday by the First Minister. We have put in place the energy jobs task force, which has focused on improving the resilience of oil and gas companies in the production sector and the supply chain, and we have invested up to £10 million in research and development support, to help oil and gas supply chain companies improve their performance and remain competitive.
Through the transition training fund, we have helped the oil and gas industry workers who have been affected by redundancy with £12 million-worth of support, which has helped more than 2,400 people directly. The fund has also provided 755 training places through two procurement rounds. Our energy strategy makes it very clear that there is a long-term role for the sector, even though we are embarked on an ambitious low-carbon trajectory.
I very much add my support and that of my colleagues to the oil and gas industry. The Scottish Government has been a strong champion of the sector. We can be judged on our record on that.
Since 2012, I have been campaigning against fracking across my region and have taken opportunities to raise my constituents’ concerns in Parliament, so I thank the Presiding Officer for calling me.
The minister spoke about the need to carry out a strategic environmental assessment before the decision is finalised. When does he expect that assessment to be completed?
Claire Baker raises a very important point. Under the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005, we are required to carry out a strategic environmental assessment when we make such key decisions. We will embark on that assessment as soon as possible. It is likely to overlap with production of the final draft of the energy strategy, which will be published in December. We will obviously reflect the position in the final draft.
It is an important process. It may take many months to consult industry and key stakeholders widely, but I assure Claire Baker that we will move on it as fast as we can. I acknowledge her long-standing interest in the issue and hope that she welcomes today’s announcement.
The Scottish Government has consistently stated that unless it can be proved beyond any doubt that fracking poses no risk to health, communities or the environment, such activity will not take place in Scotland. Will the minister provide some clarity on where, in reaching this very welcome decision, it was determined that risks remain?
I summarised the key areas in my statement, but I will give more detail on climate emissions. We obviously have very stringent and legally binding statutory annual climate change targets, which are—as I am sure Graeme Dey is well aware—difficult enough to meet. We are setting out in the climate change plan how we will deliver on those targets up to 2032.
The KPMG study indicated that, depending on the degree of regulation—assuming a good level of regulation by an outstanding environmental agency such as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency—between 0.4 and 0.6 megatonnes of CO2 emissions might be expected annually in the central production scenario, in addition to the emissions that we already produce in the economy.
On evidence on health impacts, the study said that the data on the long-term epidemiological impacts of the new industry was inconclusive.
As I have said with regard to communities, the strong sentiment is that there is a lack of a social licence to take forward the industry at the moment. Those factors have led us to the position that I have outlined today.
The minister talked about a social licence, but this Government has spent a decade overturning local decisions on wind farms. There was no social licence for that, but it was deemed to be in the national interest. However, with a budget just weeks away, it is now buckling under political pressure and forfeiting the economic boost that fracking might bring to Scotland. Is the new way of doing government one in which national policy is led by opinion polls rather than by economic and scientific evidence, even when some of that evidence is given to the Government by its own panel? Scotland needs a Government that does the right thing, not the populist thing.
That was an interesting tirade from our Conservative colleague. It is ironic, given that in his speech to the Conservative conference—I do not normally pay attention to such things, but it was drawn to my attention—Michael Gove remarked that Conservatives
“are instinctive defenders of beauty in the landscape, protectors of wildlife, friends of the earth.”
I am sure that Richard Dixon might disagree with that. Michael Gove continued:
“The first, and still the most ambitious, green party in this country is the Conservative Party.”
I beg to differ. He went on to say that we have
“the chance to secure a special prize—a Green Brexit”, but I thought that Theresa May wanted a red, white and blue Brexit.
In all sincerity, we take the concerns of communities in respect of wind farm applications very seriously. As Jamie Greene should know, planning decisions are taken in response to such applications in a quasi-judicial process; each application is judged on its merits and the process is often informed by the expert opinion of reporters in the DPEA—the division for planning and environmental appeals. They are not political decisions, as Jamie Greene characterised them. We take our responsibilities to communities very seriously.
We have reformed Scottish planning policy in the lifetime of this Government to take greater account of cumulative impacts and to protect key landscapes including the national scenic areas and national parks.
I do not agree with the premise of Mr Greene’s remarks. We stand by our record with regard to renewable energy, which is driving sustainable and low-carbon economic growth in Scotland and contributing strongly to the UK Government’s targets for renewable energy.
I very much welcome the ban that has been announced by the Government today. It cannot have been an easy decision-making process for the minister; I recognise his courage in taking that step.
In the Scottish Government’s consideration of unconventional oil and gas extraction, how has public opinion in Scotland, including the concerns of my constituents in Stirling, been taken into account? I cannot wait to read the pro-fracking comments of the Conservative Party’s Dean Lockhart in the
I will enjoy reading the reaction to Mr Lockhart’s remarks in the
Mr Crawford has made an important point. As the assiduous constituency member that I know he is, he will be aware that we issued an invitation to an open and inclusive consultation over a period of four months that ended in May, as I outlined in my statement. We tried our best to ensure that as many individuals as possible could take part. We launched a dedicated mini-website to host the material for the consultation and we directed people to packs that could be used for community groups to hold local meetings. I am delighted that more than 180 community organisations took part in the consultation. Many of those were community councils and many were from affected areas, which reflects well on the Scottish Parliament’s engagement with the communities of Scotland on the issue. Two hundred substantive responses were received from residents in the Stirling area, in addition to those who took part in petitions and the email campaigns, as I said to Angus MacDonald. I believe that residents in Stirling were actively involved; I welcome their participation and thank them for it.
The Presiding Officer:
I apologise to Emma Harper, Donald Cameron and other members who wished to be called. That concludes the statement and questions, although I imagine that there will be another chance to discuss the issue in the near future. We move to a statement on education, and will take a few moments for people to change seats.