The Scottish Government has confirmed its “final policy position” on fracking as being one of no support.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said the Government does not support the controversial practice but feels an outright ban is “not necessary at this time”.
A moratorium has been in place since 2017 on unconventional oil and gas extraction.
Mr Wheelhouse said: “There has been a change in public perception to the climate crisis and the expectations on governments to respond.
“We have considered evidence gathered from a range of independent experts, undertaken the necessary statutory assessments and ensured that people in industry across Scotland have had the opportunity to participate in the policy making process.
“We’ve undertaken the most far-reaching investigations into unconventional oil and gas by any government anywhere in the world.
“This means that I am now able to confirm the final policy position, a policy that is informed by facts, evidence and analysis, as well as public views.
“Ministers have concluded that an unconventional oil and gas industry would not be of sufficient positive benefit to Scotland to outweigh its negative impact.”
Mr Wheelhouse went on to explain how the position would work in practice.
Energy companies in Scotland need licences and planning permission to begin fracking, and Mr Wheelhouse said the Scottish Government will ensure these are not provided.
He said: “The finalised policy of no support enables us to set a framework for the exercise of planning and licensing functions.
“As a result of our decision, fracking can only happen if licences are issued, and we do not intend to issue any licences which would allow fracking.
“To put this into immediate effect, the chief planner has today written to planning authorities across Scotland, stating our finalised policy and confirming that a new direction is being issued in respect of this policy.”
Opposition parties have called for an outright ban on the practice, something Mr Wheelhouse said is unnecessary, however he did say it could happen in the future.
He said: “We do not consider that new legislation is necessary at this time to control unconventional oil and gas development in Scotland.
“A strong policy position, enacted through devolved planning powers and licensing is, we believe, robust, evidence-led and sufficient.
“However, that option remains open if there is evidence over time that further action is required.”
Scottish Labour energy spokeswoman Claudia Beamish said: “Onshore fracking is not a transition fuel, but a toxic new industry – as 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 though, this is not a legal ban, which is what my Member’s Bill could deliver.
“While I welcome the Scottish Government’s no-support policy position today, and the robust evidence underpinning it, I seek assurance from the minister on how its safety will be secured from future governments or whims of future ministers.”
Mr Wheelhouse said when the Scottish Government’s National Planning Framework is brought into force, “no government will be able to change the National Planning
Framework to support unconventional oil and gas without the backing of a majority in this Parliament”.
But Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett called the final position a “fudge”, claiming it shows the “hypocrisy of the SNP”.
He added: “The minister talks of lowering our reliance on imported fossil fuels when today’s actions fails to recognise the tens of thousands of barrels of shale gas imported daily from across the Atlantic.
“So it appears the SNP support fracking when they do not think it could cost them votes.”
Mr Wheelhouse responded: “This Government can only control the environmental conditions that apply in Scotland.
“Product which is sourced from outside Scotland is neither a matter for us in terms of trade – we don’t have the powers over trade – and we don’t have the powers over jurisdictions elsewhere such as the United States.”
Tory MSP Dean Lockhart said: “It has taken six years for the Government to come to this position. This follows nine reports into fracking, four consultations and a court case costing the taxpayer £175,000.
“After all of this, can the minister clarify whether today’s statement amounts to a legal prohibition on fracking, an extended moratorium, or is it just more PR gloss?”
Mr Wheelhouse said: “There’s certainly aspects of the project which I appreciate communities and industry will have been frustrated by the length of time to get to where we are, but they are governed by statute and have to be done in the statutory process and therefore take time.”
The updated position of the Scottish Government was inadvertently posted on its website on Wednesday, 24 hours before the statement was made, in what was described as a “clerical error”.
Mr Wheelhouse apologised for the mistake and said steps had been taken to ensure it would not be repeated.