Petrochemical giant Ineos has accused the Scottish Government of taking an “Alice-in-Wonderland” approach to fracking at the conclusion of a legal challenge at Scotland’s highest civil court.
Tom Pickering, operations director at Ineos Shale, said that evidence presented at the Court of Session in Edinburgh had revealed a “staggering U-turn” from ministers on the issue and had “cast further uncertainty and ambiguity” over their position.
Ineos and Aberdeen firm ReachCSG took Scottish ministers to court over their decision to convert a moratorium on the controversial gas extraction technique into an effective ban.
During proceedings James Mure QC, for the Scottish Government, suggested ministers had simply announced a preferred position on the matter and had not finally adopted it.
Lord Pentland will issue a judgment on the case in the coming weeks following three days of submissions.
Speaking outside the court, Mr Pickering said: “We were astonished to learn during proceedings that the Scottish Government claims that it has not issued a ban on fracking in Scotland, and indeed there may never be one.
“The position of the Scottish Government that has now been stated in court represents a staggering U-turn on the policy direction announced by the Energy Minister during parliamentary debate in October last year, and by the First Minister when she said in Parliament ‘Scotland should welcome the fact that fracking in Scotland is banned’.
“The Scottish people and Parliament may find this revelation barely believable, when the Government has repeatedly told Holyrood that there is an effective and immediate ban.
“The developments during the judicial review process undermine the statements made by Ministers and cast further uncertainty and ambiguity across the policy framework for onshore unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland. We took Ministers and the Government at their word.
“Sadly we seem to have reached the Alice-in-Wonderland situation where a business has to go to the Scottish courts to establish whether announcements in Holyrood can be taken at face value.
“As a result there is now an unpredictable and uncertain environment for business in Scotland.”
A moratorium on fracking has been in place in Scotland since 2015 and in October last year energy minister Paul Wheelhouse announced that planning regulations would be used to “effectively ban” it by extending the moratorium “indefinitely”.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government’s preferred position is that it does not support the development of unconventional oil and gas.
“As we have made clear, this position is subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment.
It remains inappropriate to comment further during the judicial review process.”