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Fracking to remain banned in Scotland

Scotland’s policy on fracking will not change, despite the ban being lifted in England.

The UK government formally lifted the moratorium on shale gas production last week.

This is part of a larger package of policies intended to increase domestic energy production, according to a statement from Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Prime Minister Liz Truss announced the policy change in her first address to Parliament. 

Members of the Scottish Parliament clarified on Thursday 22 September that they would not implement the new policy. 

“Fracking can only happen here if [licenses] are issued by the Scottish Government and we do not intend to issue any licenses,” said Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport and Scottish Minister for Falkirk West. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated before the formal policy change in England that the Scottish Government’s position on fracking remained unchanged.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracking, is the process of using pressurized water, sand and other chemicals to fracture shale rock and extract gas or oil.

The process had been blocked across the UK since 2019 following concerns over resulting seismic activity. 

Arguments against fracking have also highlighted environmental concerns, as the resulting gas and oil are fossil fuels, which drive climate change.

“The International Energy Agency, the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], the Climate Change Committee…all say we should be [removing] less hydrocarbon out of the ground, not more,” said Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage in the school of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh.

Opponents of fracking also often point to the potential for contamination in nearby water sources; however, Haszeldine noted the concern about contamination is often higher than the reality.

“With a good borehole design, it’s a small risk,” he said.

The policy change comes amid a spike in energy costs across the UK. 

The government has attributed some of that spike to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent reduction in how much gas is sent to Europe. 

In a statement, Business and Energy Secretary Rees-Mogg said increasing domestic energy supply across fracking, oil and renewable energy was a priority, and a matter of security; the UK government estimates it will issue about 100 new licenses for oil and gas extraction.  

“We are going to ensure the U.K. is a net energy exporter by 2040,” he said.

According to the British Geological Survey, it is difficult to estimate how much potential shale gas there is in the UK because of a lack of production data; research does indicate that Scotland has deposits that would be suitable for fracking in the Midland Valley.

However, research studies cited by the BGS note that the actual potential gas may be lower across the UK than initially estimated.

According to Haszeldine, much of the oil and gas that would have been in the shale is no longer there, due to the geological history of the UK.

The resumption of fracking in England is not guaranteed as the new policy includes a provision that fracking needs community support. 

Wales has also stated it will not issue fracking licenses.

Image “Ban fracking now” by Gastivists Collective is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.