Onshore Fracking Licences

– in the Scottish Parliament on 15th May 2018.

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Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

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)

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

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.

Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

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?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

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.

Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

Can the minister clarify for the chamber and those in communities across Scotland who have concerns about onshore fracking whether the Scottish Government now holds powers to revoke a licence or whether those remain with the UK Government?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

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.

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

When it comes to meeting our energy needs, does the minister share my view that this Parliament’s focus should be on the importance of the renewables sector and that, regrettably, the United Kingdom Government has failed to provide that vital sector with the support that it requires?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Very briefly, minister, as that is hardly to the point.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

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.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

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?

The Presiding Officer:

The minister will be aware that there is a live court issue in this case, so he should be careful in responding.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Indeed, Presiding Officer. In any case, I can say only a limited amount on the matter. The appeals remain sisted and it is a matter for the planning and environmental appeals division to decide what the next step should be in each case.

Photo of Angus MacDonald Angus MacDonald Scottish National Party

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?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

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.