Keith Campbell

Keith Campbell

The Scottish Government is consulting on the future of unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland, writes MacRoberts‘ Keith Campbell.

In January 2015 the Scottish Government imposed a moratorium on onshore unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development in Scotland. This includes hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and gas, commonly known as fracking, and coal bed methane extraction.

The moratorium was to remain in place until further evidence of the potential environmental, health and economic impacts of these technologies had been gathered and an “evidence-based” decision could properly be made. The Scottish Government noted that reserves are located predominantly in Scotland’s densely-populated central belt.

It commissioned research into the evidence relating to six UOG impacts: economic impact; climate change impact; induced seismic activity; transport impact; decommissioning, site restoration and aftercare; and health impact, with the research reports published in November 2016.

The consultation does not set out a preferred Scottish Government position but seeks the views of the public and stakeholders on the findings of this and other research and whether UOG development should be permitted in Scotland.

UOG development remains controversial and politically contentious. In June 2016 the Scottish Parliament passed a non-binding motion calling for an outright ban on fracking, albeit with Scottish Government MSPs abstaining from the vote in light of the ongoing research programme and future consultation. It seems likely that consultation responses will reflect already entrenched positions on the subject.

The consultation closes on 31 May 2017. The Scottish Government will then review the responses and evidence and ask the Scottish Parliament to vote on its recommended approach. A final decision on the future of UOG is expected by the end of 2017.