2. To ask the Scottish Government whether powers devolved to the Parliament over onshore oil and gas licensing under the Scotland Act 2016, which commenced in February, give ministers the authority to take decisions on granting and extending petroleum exploration and development licences for onshore fracking. (S5T-01086)
The Scottish Government welcomes the devolution, on 9 February 2018, of the powers to issue and manage onshore oil and gas licences to Scotland. The powers, which were transferred to Scotland through sections 47 to 49 of the Scotland Act 2016 and related subordinate legislation, provide the Scottish ministers with a wide range of powers over the administration of onshore oil and gas licences, including the power to grant or extend petroleum exploration and development licences.
Will the minister seek to ensure that the initial term of petroleum exploration and development licence 162, which is owned by Ineos and Reach Coal Seam Gas Ltd and covers 400km2 in the Scottish central belt, will not be extended, and that the licence will cease to exist on 30 June this year? What is the process by which the licence will be considered?
I hope that Ms Beamish will understand my desire not to pre-judge any application to ministers. The integrity of the planning system is very important, and we have only just received the powers in question. Any requests for extensions to a licence will be considered on a case-by-case basis and in the light of the policies that are in place at the time.
I reassure Ms Beamish that we take such matters extremely seriously and that we will take forward our plans to develop a framework for onshore oil and gas licensing.
Returning to my previous answer, I say that we are grateful for the quickness of the devolution of powers following the statement in Parliament in October last year. The powers were commenced on 9 February, and they include the power to grant or extend a petroleum exploration development licence, or to refuse to do so, if need be. However, I would not want to discuss any specific licence at this point. I hope that Ms Beamish understands that I do not want to undermine the impartial, clear and transparent process that we would hope to deploy.
I agree with the member’s view. There has perhaps been too much focus in the past on fracking at UK level. We have encouraged UK ministers to take a greater interest in support for renewables industries. I had a recent meeting with Claire Perry at the all-energy conference in Glasgow and I have reason to believe that she is more progressive than some of her predecessors, so I hope that we will have more fruitful discussions. However, I take on board the member’s point and very much agree with him that renewables are the way to go and that we should be putting our energy into ensuring that we have a low-carbon future in Scotland.
It is now almost four years since the conclusion of the public inquiry into the UK’s first commercial planning application for coal-bed methane, near Airth. The decision still sits in limbo on the planning minister’s desk, so is it not time that the Scottish Government gave communities the certainty that they deserve, using the legally watertight planning powers that it now has, and shut the gate on Ineos in the Forth valley?
I recall that, in his statement to Parliament on 3 October last year, the minister made it clear that the Scottish Government’s preferred position was subject to the completion of a strategic environmental assessment. Will he update Parliament on that process and confirm that he will also update Parliament following the completion of the strategic environmental assessment and any business and regulatory impact assessment that is undertaken?
The member makes a very good point
. We have embarked on a strategic environmental assessment, which is a requirement of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005. As I set out in my statement, that strategic environmental assessment has commenced and we expect it to conclude in the summer. We would undertake any other statutory requirements in reaching our preferred position, and that is all that I can say at this stage.