Scotland’s Onshore Unconventional Oil and Gas Policy

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 3 October 2019.

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Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

The next item is a statement by Paul Wheelhouse on Scotland’s onshore unconventional oil and gas policy.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I am aware that details in relation to this statement were briefly and inadvertently released yesterday. All members of the Parliamentary Bureau were made aware of that at the time. We have discussed this serious matter with those concerned, Presiding Officer, and I reassure you and colleagues across Parliament that the Scottish Government will take appropriate procedural measures, with the intention of ensuring that it does not happen again.

Today’s statement on onshore unconventional oil and gas poli cy is the conclusion of a policy development process that began as far back as 2013. Over the intervening period, our energy and climate change policy has developed significantly. In 2013, our world-leading climate change legislation committed to emissions reductions targets of 80 per cent by 2050. Just last week, our Parliament passed new legislation committing Scotland to net-zero emissions by 2045. In 2013, no one would have predicted that renewable energy sources such as offshore wind would secure contracts for difference—CFD—to produce electricity more cheaply than existing gas-fired power stations.

There has been a dramatic change in public perceptions of the environment and the climate crisis, and in the expectations of the Government to respond. Throughout the period, our cautious evidence-led approach to the future of unconventional oil and gas development, including coal-bed methane extraction and hydraulic fracturing—the latter being commonly known as fracking—has ensured that we have reached a policy decision that is fit for purpose.

We have considered evidence that has been gathered from a range of independent experts, we have undertaken the necessary statutory assessments and we have ensured that people and industry across Scotland have had the opportunity to participate in the policy-making process in a constructive, inclusive and transparent way.

We have undertaken one of the most far-reaching investigations into unconventional oil and gas by any Government in the world. That means that I am now able to confirm Scottish ministers’ final policy position on unconventional oil and gas—a policy that is informed by facts, evidence and analysis, as well as by public views.

Following careful consideration of the statutory and other assessments and related consultation responses, and considering all the previous evidence that we have assembled, ministers have concluded that an unconventional oil and gas industry would not be of sufficient positive benefit to Scotland to outweigh its negative impacts.

Therefore, based on the evidence on impacts and the clear lack of social acceptability, I confirm today that the Scottish Government’s final policy position is that we do not support the development of unconventional oil and gas—often known as fracking—in Scotland. That means that there is no support from the Government for development connected to the onshore exploration, appraisal or production of coal-bed methane, shale oil or shale gas using unconventional oil and gas extraction techniques, including hydraulic fracturing and dewatering for coal-bed methane.

I will now set out the detail behind that conclusion, before I set out how we will enact it. In September 2013, the Scottish Government established an independent expert scientific panel on unconventional oil and gas. The panel’s report, which was published in July 2014, highlighted a number of issues that required further investigation, prior to a policy decision being reached. Therefore, on 28 January 2015, the Scottish Government put in place a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas development.

On 8 November 2016, we published a set of independent expert reports that considered the specific issues that had been identified by the expert panel, which included health, economics, seismicity, decommissioning, climate change and transport impacts. That included a health impact assessment that was undertaken by Health Protection Scotland, which highlighted that there is insufficient epidemiological evidence on health impacts and indicated that a precautionary approach to unconventional oil and gas is warranted on the basis of the available evidence.

On 31 January 2017, we launched a comprehensive public consultation on unconventional oil and gas, “Talking ‘Fracking’: A Consultation on Unconventional Oil and Gas”, which received more than 60,000 responses.

On 3 October 2017, in response to publication of the consultation responses, I confirmed to Parliament that having considered the suite of evidence, including expert reports and consultation responses, Scottish ministers’ preferred policy was not to support unconventional oil and gas development, subject to the necessary statutory assessments, including a strategic environmental assessment, being carried out prior to a decision being made on the final policy. On 24 October 2017, following a parliamentary debate, Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of that preferred position.

In May 2018, the Scottish Government successfully defended a legal challenge to the Scottish Government’s actions in relation to unconventional oil and gas.

In October 2018, the Scottish Government published and consulted on the strategic environmental assessment report, a partial business and regulatory impact assessment and the preferred policy position, which was updated to reflect the devolution of onshore oil and gas licensing powers in February 2018. The environmental assessment report concluded that, even when taking account of existing regulation and consenting processes, the development of an unconventional oil and gas industry has the potential for significant negative effects on the environment. It also concluded that the effect of the preferred policy position would be to avoid the environmental impacts that are associated with the unconventional oil and gas industry.

Altogether, 2,577 responses were received to the 2018 consultation. They comprised 329 substantive responses and 2,243 standard campaign responses, which were submitted by supporters of Friends of the Earth Scotland. Those led the Scottish Government to form the view that it would be helpful to provide further clarification on a number of points that were raised in response to the consultation documents, specifically regarding the preferred policy position and its objectives.

On 30 April 2019, we published an addendum to the SEA report, the preferred policy position statement and the partial BRIA, and we invited further comments on the points that were covered. The addendum set out that the objectives of the preferred policy of there being no support were to ensure that, in the planning sphere and in relation to ministers’ onshore oil and gas licensing and regulatory powers, the policy should, first, minimise the potential risk of environmental and health impacts by adopting a precautionary approach. It set out, secondly, that it should promote the achievement of our energy transition goals and, thirdly, that it should maximise the prospects of meeting the Scottish Government’s carbon emissions and climate change targets. A total of 98 responses were received on the consultation addendum, comprised of 15 from organisations and 83 from individuals.

The analysis of the 2018 and 2019 consultations and the responses to them will be published today, along with the final business and regulatory impact assessment, which has been informed by those responses.

The majority of responses to the 2018 and 2019 consultations correspond with those that were received to our 2017 “Talking ‘Fracking’”, in which the predominant view of respondents, who live mainly in the densely populated areas of the central belt, where unconventional oil and gas development has been proposed, was not in favour of unconventional oil and gas. No consultation on unconventional oil and gas that the Scottish Government undertakes should be considered to be an opinion poll. However, the overwhelming response to each of the consultations indicates that there is no social licence for the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.

We have also considered our environment, economic and energy policies as part of that process. The Scottish Government has been at the forefront of global action to limit climate change. Our “Climate Change Plan: The Third Report on Proposals and Policies 2018-2032”, which was published in February 2018, sets out our approach to meeting our statutory emissions reduction targets to 2032, and has paved the way for Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon economy. The plan is due to be updated in 2020.

Last week, Parliament passed the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill, which contains the most ambitious statutory targets of any country in the world for 2020, 2030 and 2040. In its significant report on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that, by 2050, the world needs to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Scotland will do so by 2045 at the latest. That will require new and existing policies to be developed or reviewed to ensure that they are compatible with our targets. That is evident in the recent programme for government, which has climate change at its core.

Our environment and economy are intrinsically linked. The transformation of the energy system in Scotland, as part of the drive to tackle climate change, has the potential to bring significant economic and social opportunities to individuals, businesses and communities. We will work to ensure that those opportunities are realised, in order to ensure a just transition.

Similarly, one of the key aims of Scotland’s energy strategy is to secure a stable energy transition that harnesses Scotland’s renewable and low-carbon energy potential and creates new jobs and supply-chain opportunities.

The Committee on Climate Change’s advice is clear: oil and gas will continue to have a role in the energy mix even when we have reached net zero emissions. Scotland faces a similar challenge to that which is faced by all advanced economies in developing cost-effective substitutes for hydrocarbons. That means that we require an approach that reduces demand for carbon-intensive fuel sources and lowers our reliance on imported fossil fuels.

As we outlined in our programme for government, our continued support for oil and gas exploration and production in the North Sea is based on a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition. That includes industry ambitions, as expressed in the industry’s “Roadmap to 2035: a blueprint for net-zero”, to become the first net zero carbon basin in the world, at the point of production.

We considered carefully how support for development of onshore unconventional oil and gas sits with our policies on climate change, energy transition and decarbonisation of our economy: we have concluded that such support is incompatible with them.

We will continue to work closely with businesses and key industrial clusters to support action to accelerate cost-effective industrial decarbonisation measures, including development and deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage, as well as hydrogen technologies.

Scotland’s chemicals industry has conveyed strong views on the potential benefits for Scottish industry of unconventional oil and gas. Although we do not share that vision, I make it clear that our support for Scotland’s industrial base and our desire to develop our world-class chemical manufacturing sector are unwavering. We will continue to support the sector in a range of ways in the months and years to come, but we do not agree that unconventional oil and gas extraction is a requirement of the industry’s future.

Let me set out what the policy position of there being no support for unconventional oil and gas means in practice. On 9 February 2018, the Scotland Act 2016 devolved to the Scottish Parliament certain powers to legislate for granting and regulation of licences for onshore oil and gas. The finalised policy of there being no support for unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland enables us to set a framework for the exercise of planning and licensing functions in respect of onshore oil and gas licensing, as devolved under the 2016 act. As a result of our decision, fracking could happen only if licences were issued. We do not intend to issue licences that would permit fracking.

To put that into immediate effect, the chief planner has today written to planning authorities throughout Scotland, stating our finalised policy and confirming that a new planning direction is being issued in respect of the policy. That action means that decisions on onshore unconventional oil and gas developments will be made having regard to planning policy and procedure, and within the framework of Scottish Government policy—a policy that does not support unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.

Our finalised policy will be reflected in the next iteration of the national planning framework, which must, under the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019, be approved by Parliament before it can be adopted by ministers. Once the new national planning framework has been approved, no Government will be able to adopt a revised national planning framework to support unconventional oil and gas development without the backing of Parliament. I am sure that that will be welcomed across the chamber and beyond it.

I am mindful that there have been calls from stakeholders and from colleagues in Parliament for a legislative ban on unconventional oil and gas. We do not consider that new legislation is necessary at this time to control unconventional oil and gas development. A strong policy position that is enacted through devolved planning powers and licensing is, we believe, robust, evidence led and sufficient. However the legislative option remains open if evidence appears, over time, that further action is required.

The final decision on unconventional oil and gas is the culmination 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, and I thank everyone who contributed to the process. At the same time, since the moratorium in 2013, no unconventional oil and gas extraction has taken place in Scotland. The contrast with the gung-ho approach that is being taken in England could not be more stark.

It is right that this Government sought independent expert scientific advice, and that we took the time that was needed to assess the evidence and to seek the views of the people of Scotland. We have now reached a position that will provide the clarity that is sought by communities and industry alike, and which will allow ministers to implement a robust policy—which is that the Scottish Government does not support the development of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.

The Presiding Officer:

The minister will now take questions.

Photo of Alexander Burnett Alexander Burnett Conservative

I thank the minister for early sight of his statement and for his apology for the accidental release of details yesterday.

The Scottish Conservatives have always supported achieving the right mix of energy supply, including more use of renewables. We understand the need to support new technologies and businesses and we recognise the need for oil and gas in the just transition to a low-carbon economy. However, today’s fudge of a final position but not a legal ban is just more hypocrisy from the Scottish National Party. The minister talks of an approach that “lowers our reliance on imported fossil fuels”, but today’s action fails to recognise the tens of thousands of barrels of shale gas that are imported daily from across the Atlantic. It would appear that the SNP supports fracking where it does not think that fracking could cost it votes.

We have stated that although the response to the Scottish Government consultation was substantive, consultations should not be used as opinion polls and responses must be considered on the basis of factual evidence. Although the SNP’s scientific panel highlighted issues, it also showed how those could be mitigated.

Is the minister confident that the evidence from the panel unequivocally demonstrates that onshore gas extraction is impossible to carry out without adequate mitigation?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I thank Alexander Burnett for the earlier part of his remarks, and I appreciate what he said about my apology.

On the wider points about the supply of feedstock for Grangemouth, for example, I am a minister in the Scottish Government, which can control only the environmental conditions that apply in Scotland. I have made that point on the record before, in October 2017. A product that is sourced from outside Scotland is not a matter for us in terms of trade—we do not have powers over trade, and we do not have powers over jurisdictions elsewhere, such as the United States.

We believe that the North Sea oil and gas industry can provide ethane as a feedstock for plants such as Grangemouth. Indeed, we would encourage the use of product from the North Sea—as I am sure Alexander Burnett would, being a supporter of the industry. We want that product to be used first before we look at imports.

We are going to work hard with the chemical sciences industry to look at how we can help to decarbonise the plant and find alternatives to hydrocarbons, as I said in my statement. We are committed to working with Ineos and other companies in the chemical sciences sector to make that happen.

I assure Alexander Burnett that we are not ignoring the issue. We will try to help the industry to decarbonise, to become more efficient and to use less fuel in the first place. I hope that we can address the issue through those means. Ultimately, other Administrations have to police the environmental conditions in their own countries.

Photo of Claudia Beamish Claudia Beamish Labour

I thank the minister for advance sight of the statement.

As Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for environment and climate change, I have joined campaigners from across Scotland and worked with non-governmental organisations that have supported us in the fight against fracking for years, for our water, air and land and for our communities. Fuel from onshore fracking is not a transition fuel; it is a toxic new industry, as has been shockingly proven in England and across the globe.

No doubt Ineos and the whole industry will finally grasp the message loud and clear: no fracking here! Crucially, however, it is not a legal ban, which is what my proposed prohibition of fracking bill could still deliver.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s policy position of no support for fracking and the robust evidence underpinning it, but I seek assurance from the minister on how that position will be kept secure under future Governments, and protected from the whims of future ministers.

The Parliament agreed to an amendment in my name to ensure that the national planning framework review would further reinforce the Scottish Government’s position by having it taken forward by the chief planner, with no licences being issued in the future. Can the minister confirm categorically and guarantee that the NPF process will be completed in this parliamentary session?

Does the minister agree with me that his no fracking in Scotland statement will reinforce the signals sent to everyone by our new Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019 that sustainable, unionised jobs through just transition as part of the green jobs revolution is what we must all work for?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I recognise that Claudia Beamish and other colleagues across the chamber have taken a great interest in the subject. I very much appreciate the bipartisan nature of the engagement that I have had with her throughout the process to keep each other informed of our respective plans.

I respect the fact that she has been consistent in her opposition to fracking. Through an evidence-based process, we have reached a conclusion that I can see she is happy with.

To reassure Claudia Beamish, because she makes an important point, I re-emphasise that our policy of no support will be reflected in the next draft iteration of the NPF—NPF4—which is expected in the 2020-21 parliamentary year. I cannot guarantee that it will be completed because, as she will understand, it is the Parliamentary Bureau that determines chamber business. However, with our support and, I hope, the support of Labour, we can make sure that NPF4 proceeds to the chamber and is heard. I am sure that Kevin Stewart will be keen to engage with Claudia Beamish on that matter.

The provisions of the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 mean that ministers cannot adopt the national planning framework unless Parliament approves it, and, once adopted, it will form part of the development plan. In practice, and as I said in my statement, once the national planning framework has been approved, no Government will be able to change it to support unconventional oil and gas without the backing of a majority in the Parliament. I hope that that will give some reassurance to Claudia Beamish, who I know is passionate about the issue, that we are sincere in our effort to reflect in NPF4 the meaning of her amendment and to follow through on our commitment.

Photo of Angus MacDonald Angus MacDonald Scottish National Party

The majority of constituents in my Falkirk East constituency will warmly welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement preventing the extraction of unconventional oil and gas—as do I. With the climate emergency that was announced earlier this year, there is clearly no place for fracking in Scotland, or indeed, further afield.

Last month, Falkirk Council declared a climate emergency, with a target of limiting carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 while making Grangemouth Falkirk district’s first carbon neutral town. Will the Government continue to engage with Ineos, Petroineos and other major players in Grangemouth, with a view to encouraging a full transformation in order to reduce emissions significantly and to assist them in establishing meaningful carbon reduction targets?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

As I did in relation to Claudia Beamish, I recognise Angus

MacDonald’s longstanding interest in the subject. We continue to engage positively with those businesses on a range of issues and we welcome the significant investments that they have announced to date.

The Scottish Government is working in partnership with energy-intensive industries to build on the considerable strengths of industry across Scotland and to highlight that industrial decarbonisation is an economic investment opportunity. We will continue to co-ordinate activity across all partners, including Scottish Enterprise and Falkirk Council, to ensure that the skills and expertise in the industrial cluster at Grangemouth can facilitate significant emission reductions and continue to support economic growth in Falkirk and the wider Scottish economy.

I commend the efforts of Falkirk Council in aiming to make Grangemouth the first carbon-neutral town in the district, and I look forward to helping him celebrate that if it is achieved.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

On behalf of the Scottish Greens, I warmly welcome today’s decision, which at long last enacts the decision of the Parliament in 2017 to deliver a ban on fracking, using powers over both planning and licensing. It draws to a conclusion a campaign that the Green Party has been running with communities since 2012.

However, over the intervening years, communities in the Forth valley have faced a huge amount of uncertainty. I have spoken with residents who have been unable to sell their homes because of the threat of fracking applications. Can the minister confirm that the lifting of the moratorium on planning decisions will finally enable Ineos’s application for the Airth coal bed methane development to be rejected by the planning minister?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I cannot comment on the latter point because it is a planning matter. The appeals remain sisted, but now that we have finalised our policy position on unconventional oil and gas, the planning and environmental appeals division will write to the parties seeking their views on whether any additional or updated evidence will be required before reports are submitted to Scottish ministers. Ministers will then make final decisions on those appeals, in line with the policy set out today.

I hope that that response is helpful to Mr Ruskell. I recognise how unsettling the situation has been for communities. Unfortunately, the nature of the process means that the statutory assessments that we have to undertake take time: they have to be done properly, they have to be research based and they have to be properly evidenced. I hope that he is comfortable with the process that we have gone through.

We have now reached the final policy position, which replaces the moratorium and means that the planning appeals that have been sisted can now proceed through the process.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

I also welcome today’s announcement as the representative for the Kirkcaldy constituency, which has massive coal seams that have attracted a lot of interest from certain companies. Can the minister elaborate on the findings on the environmental impact of fracking? Does he agree that is high time that the United Kingdom Government followed this Government’s lead to ensure that no fracking can take place in the UK, allowing us to meet our net zero carbon emissions targets?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I very much hope that the UK Government will change tack on the policy position that it has set out. The planning direction issued today requires planning authorities to notify, under planning legislation, the Scottish ministers of the receipt of any planning applications for unconventional oil and gas developments. Ministers can call in an application at any time for consideration, ensuring that decisions on onshore unconventional oil and gas developments can be made having regard to planning policy and procedure and the Scottish Government’s policy framework. That is not the approach that has been taken in England. Community views have been an important part of our decision-making process in Scotland; again, that has not been reflected in England.

We would be happy to share with UK ministers the evidence that we have gathered. In response to Mr Torrance’s point, I point out that we now know, as a result of research by the University of Nottingham that was published on 20 August 2019, that the UK’s underground shale gas reserves may deliver only a fraction of the gas that was previously thought to have been recoverable. That finding is in contrast to the British Geological Survey data. Rather than the 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas that was estimated by the BGS, the University of Nottingham’s estimate is 200 trillion cubic feet. That is obviously still a lot of gas, but it is not as significant an amount as had been thought. We would argue that UK ministers should reconsider their position.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I thank the minister for early sight—indeed, the inadvertent early sight—of his statement. Like others, I welcome the fulsome apology that he offered the chamber.

The minister is right to acknowledge the uncertainty that communities across central Scotland that are on or near sites earmarked for fracking have been living with over recent years. It is very welcome that the Scottish Government has now confirmed its decision that fracking should not happen in Scotland. The minister mentioned that he has not ruled out the possibility of bringing forward a bill in due course. It would be helpful if he would set out what the trigger or threshold for bringing forward a bill might be.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

As a keen follower of football, that sounds to me like the definition of thresholds for introducing video assisted referees.

We have been consistent in our view that this has been an exercise in policy development rather than legislation. We do not consider that legislation is necessary to control unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland. The adoption of our strong policy provides the most appropriate and proportionate means of regulating such development, having regard to the objectives of the final policy.

However, as Mr McArthur has asked about it and I know that the issue is of interest to Claudia Beamish, Mark Ruskell and others, I will say that the option of legislation remains open if there is evidence that further action is required. Should that be the case, I will be happy to work with Claudia Beamish, Liam McArthur and others to consider legislative steps. It is worth pointing out that any legislation would require similar statutory assessments to be completed and, therefore, a similar timescale to achieve the outcome that we are talking about. In terms of the legislative powers that have now been passed to us through the Scotland Act 2016, we would be more likely to look at using the licensing framework to specify the technology that would be allowed in Scotland. That could constrain the nature of unconventional oil and gas extraction developments.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government has set the most stringent emissions targets in the world, which the Scottish Conservatives seemed to support last week; after Mr Burnett’s comments today, however, I am not so sure.

The UK Committee on Climate Change was explicit in stating that, in order for Scotland to meet its emissions ambitions, the rest of the UK has to do its part. What indication has the minister had that the UK Government is undertaking investigations into unconventional oil and gas, and will he commit to sharing the Scottish Government’s evidence with the UK Government so that it can take a similarly well-informed decision?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Absolutely. I recognise the points made by Gillian Martin. She is right to identify the need that we all now have, given the evident climate emergency, to reflect on our actions. That is what the Scottish Government will do in developing the climate change plan: we will look at all the policies that are in place across the Scottish Government. Equally, the UK Government has a responsibility under its powers to look at what it is doing.

Gillian Martin is also right that UK Government ministers—colleagues of our Conservative colleagues in this chamber—have previously criticised our cautious and evidence-led approach and our finalised policy position on fracking. I hope that we have demonstrated that we reached our decision in a proper and considered way, using evidence, and that we have arrived at a robust policy position. We did not push forward with unconventional oil and gas extraction without checking with communities and science, despite the pressure from outside, and I recommend to the UK Government as essential reading the extensive evidence-base that we have gathered on unconventional oil and gas, on which our decision not to support fracking is based.

All that evidence will be published on the Scottish Government website and will be available to anyone who wishes to use it. I may be tempted to send a web link to my colleague Kwasi Kwarteng in the UK Government, to make the process easier for him.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

There must be an SNP party conference coming up, because we have yet another statement on fracking. It has taken six years for the Scottish Government to come to this position, which follows nine reports on fracking, four consultations and a court case costing the taxpayer £175,000. After all that, will the minister clarify whether today’s statement amounts to a legal prohibition on fracking, an extended moratorium, or just more public relations gloss?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I could have predicted that that one would come up, and, indeed, it did. This is obviously a process. As I said in my statement, I appreciate that communities and industries will have been frustrated by aspects of the process and the length of time that it has taken to get to where we are. However, those aspects are governed by statute: there is a statutory process and it takes time.

Since I gave my statement in October 2017, we have taken appropriate time to do what Parliament asked us to do in the motion that we passed on 24 October 2017: that is, to undertake a strategic environmental assessment and a business regulatory impact assessment on the preferred policy position. We have now finalised that position.

Today’s announcement marks the conclusion of the process that we have followed in the development of our policy. That process has ensured that we have reached a policy decision that is fit for purpose, and that enables us to set a framework for the exercise of planning functions, and for our functions in respect of onshore oil and gas licensing, which we arrived at after the statement that I gave in October 2017. Under the policy, we will not issue a licensing round for new underground unconventional oil and gas production.

In relation to the point about language that Dean Lockhart mentioned, he will be aware of the court action that he referenced in his question, and I emphasise that language is extremely important. We are trying to respect the determination of Lord Pentland in the inner house of the Court Session, and not to put at risk the position that we have taken very great care to reach. That is what I have to say about language. We were very particular about what we put in today’s statement, which, I appreciate, may not have been as exciting as some statements can be—on occasion. As I have said previously, although it may be a case of campaigning in poetry and governing in prose, we had to put the language down in a particular way to give clarity on the policy position so that all stakeholders—whether they are for or against unconventional oil and gas—know exactly where we stand. I am confident that we have done that today.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

Clearly, opening up any new fronts for fossil fuel extraction is bad for the climate. Will the minister outline what plans he has to build a low-carbon and decarbonised energy system in Scotland?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Absolutely. Stuart McMillan raised an important point on a matter that I am sure that all of us in the chamber care about. In December 2017, we published “Scottish Energy Strategy: The future of energy in Scotland”, which set out a target to deliver 50 per cent or more of the energy that we need from renewable resources by the milestone of 2030, not just across power generation but also across heating and transport.

That is extremely important.

As I referenced earlier, the oil and gas industry has a role in that transition. We are working hard with Oil & Gas UK, the Oil and Gas Authority and operators to ensure that we achieve a net zero solution centre for the industry, and to ensure that the industry achieves its road map to 2035, which is not insignificant—it wants to save 15 megatons of CO2 from the production process itself.

We are clearly pushing on with vigour in our pursuit of renewable energy in Scotland. I am delighted to say that, according to the last year of figures that we have, 76.3 per cent of Scotland’s electricity demand can be met by renewables. We also saw 1.2 gigawatts of new capacity installed in 2018-19 alone. We see continued investment in renewables, which is driven by a strong policy position from the Scottish Government and the support of the industry.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I have been campaigning in opposition to fracking in Fife and Scotland since 2012, and today’s statement is very welcome. My understanding is that there are two issued licences in Scotland at the moment. How does the Government plan to manage those licences, and what does that mean for the relevant planning authorities? In addition, is the new planning directive that is due to be issued imminent? Will that be done in the next few days?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

On the latter point, I believe that the new directive is to be issued as soon as I sit down. I will confirm that. Obviously, we did not want to pre-empt the statement, but it will be issued today and planning authorities will have it.

As I mentioned in response to Mark Ruskell, now that the policy position that I have outlined today has been finalised, the planning and environmental appeals division will write to the parties in the two appeals that were sisted to seek their views on whether any additional or updated evidence will be required before it submits its report to the Scottish ministers. The DPEA will take stock of the position today and will assess whether anything has changed since the appeals were sisted as regards the evidence base from the applicants. The Scottish ministers will then make final decisions on those appeals. That is the appropriate route to go down.

I hope that that is helpful, but I would be happy to discuss the matter further with Claire Baker, whose strong interest in this area I recognise.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

Recognising that the licensing of fracking was previously a reserved matter, when the Liberal Democrats pushed through fracking licensing, and that the member of Parliament for East Dunbartonshire, which my constituency is part of, received £14,000 from a director of a fracking company, does the minister agree that Jo Swinson, who professes to be against fracking but actually voted for it, should hand back the frackers’ money and tell the frackers to frack off?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I probably need to be careful in how I respond to that question, and I recognise that the Presiding Officer probably has an interest in that, too.

I recognise that Ms Swinson’s voting record shows that she has been inconsistent on fracking. It will be for the voters of East Dunbartonshire to take a view on that in due course. I have no doubt that Gil Paterson will highlight that issue.

We certainly recognise that there are inconsistencies in the party’s approaches. I am sure that Liam McArthur will have a consistent position on the matter. I know that he is against fracking, but it is for others outside this chamber to answer for their actions.

Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

In 2016, the Scottish Government commissioned an economic impact assessment of unconventional oil and gas extraction. That strong and detailed piece of work demonstrated that there would be many potential benefits to Scotland if such extraction could take place here. Among them, it highlighted the sum of £4.6 billion of gross value added that it could bring to our economy, as well as more than 3,000 jobs, many of which would be in highly skilled professions, and £3.9 billion in tax receipts.

Does the minister still recognise those figures? Does he accept that his Government’s decision will come at a very high cost to our economy, to jobs and to Scottish public spending?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I disagree with the premise of the member’s question. I will explain why. We commissioned an economic impact study from KPMG. In the central scenario, which was thought to be the most likely one—taking out planning constraints and the fact that not all sites would receive planning consent—it was predicted that there could be £2.2 billion of turnover and £1.2 billion of economic benefits in Scotland up to 2062. That is a very long period of time. The study said that the industry would contribute approximately 0.1 per cent of gross domestic product on an annual basis and that, at peak, it would support 1,400 jobs in the economy—that figure includes the supply chain and indirect effects. It identified cumulative additional UK tax receipts of £1.4 billion over the period up to 2062.

I appreciate that Mr Halcro Johnston disagrees with us, but he might be overstating the economic impact of a fracking industry in Scotland. In relation to his point about cost, I emphasise the cost of mitigating the climate emissions that the UK Committee on Climate Change identified, which, in the same scenario, would amount to at least 0.4 megatonnes of additional emissions annually, even with the strongest regulatory environment in place. The considerable costs of mitigating those emissions must be set against the relatively modest economic benefits. I am sure that Mr Halcro Johnston will be familiar with the scale of the figures that we are talking about to implement the climate change plan.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

To ensure that there is no doubt and no fudge, as some members have suggested, can the minister confirm that, unlike England, we in Scotland will resist fracking to the best of our ability?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Absolutely. Obviously, we will do so within the bounds of planning policy—I cannot fetter the actions of future ministers down the line. I outlined to Claudia Beamish the need to enshrine our policy position in NPF4.

I can guarantee that we have taken a robust, evidence-based approach and can confirm to Richard Lyle that, since onshore oil and gas licensing powers were devolved to the Scottish ministers in February 2018, and as a consequence of the moratorium on unconventional oil and gas development that was introduced by the Government in 2015, no fracking has taken place in Scotland. The robust finalised policy that we have enshrined today will be used in processing any future planning applications that come in.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

The experience of public procurement shows that reliance on statements of policy intent without legislation leaves those policies open to having a coach and horses driven through them. I believe that that could happen in this case. The Government has faffed around with this issue for about seven years. Why do we not just take clear and decisive action once and for all and simply legislate to ensure that fracking cannot and will not take place in Scotland?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I am not saying that this is characteristic of Neil Findlay, but he is being a bit mean-spirited about our approach. We have taken time because we needed time to gather and assess evidence and consult the public, from whom we had 60,000 responses to our talking fracking consultation. We have had to follow the statutory process and conduct the strategic environmental assessment required by the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005, which was put in place by Labour and the Liberal Democrats when they were in power. We have therefore followed the legal requirements placed on the Government in order to get to where we are today.

I am not sure whether Neil Findlay is aware that his colleagues in the Welsh Government have relied on the evidence that we gathered to form their policy in Wales, so our work has benefited others and we are keen to share it with England too. I recognise that there is concern, but there is always concern about whether policy will stand up to scrutiny and the test of time. We are willing to work with other parties, including Labour, to ensure that this policy position is robust. However, I believe that what we have put in place today, using our devolved planning powers and the licensing powers that we have had since February 2018, is robust. If we need to, though, we will work with others in the chamber to ensure that it is still more robust.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

Does the minister share my astonishment that the Scottish Government has repeatedly been criticised for taking advice from a wide range of independent experts, for pledging to publish that advice in full and for promising to give the people of Scotland the chance to make their views heard?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Mr Beattie’s question is well timed, given what we have just heard from Mr Findlay. As I have outlined a number of times now, we have taken a robust, evidence-led approach to finalising our policy on unconventional oil and gas. We have considered evidence gathered from a range of independent experts, undertaken the necessary statutory assessments and ensured that people and industry across Scotland have had the opportunity to participate in the policy-making process in a constructive, inclusive and transparent way. We are aware of the strongly held feelings on all sides of the debate, which gave us an extra responsibility to approach the matter in a careful and considered way and to listen to all voices. It is only right that we considered all the submissions that were provided.

I thank again everybody who contributed to our policy process, not only the members of the Scottish Parliament, but others out in the affected communities and industry partners. I pay tribute to them for their considered submissions to the process.