Scotland Blocks Fracking Pending Public Consultation

Scotland will impose a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas drilling pending the results of a public consultation, in the latest blow for fracking in the U.K.

No consents for fracking will be granted until after planning guidance and environmental regulations have been tightened, the consultation is complete and a public health impact assessment has been carried out, the Scottish government said today in a statement. No deadline was set for those steps.

“The Scottish Government has taken a cautious, considered and evidence-based approach to unconventional oil and gas and fracking,” Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said in the statement. “We recognize that local communities are likely to bear the brunt of any unconventional oil and gas developments, particularly in terms of increased traffic and related emissions and noise impacts.”

The Conservative-led U.K. government on Monday said it’ll ban fracking in national parks and sites of special scientific interest, while endorsing 13 safeguards that the opposition Labour Party had introduced to an Infrastructure Bill being debated in Parliament. At the same time it’s trying to promote fracking by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd., IGas Energy Plc and other companies by cutting taxes and relaxing planning rules.

Fracking has proven contentious in the U.K., with only a handful of wells drilled so far in the face of opposition from campaigners who say boring into shale rock may contaminate water, cause earthquakes and hurt the countryside.

Aide Resigns

While the U.K. Parliament on Monday rejected an outright moratorium, Tessa Munt, a ministerial aide who voted in favor of one, yesterday resigned from the government.

“I am unwilling to compromise and cannot change my opposition to fracking,” Munt said in a statement on her website. “I will continue to campaign vocally against fracking and as a result it is clear that my views cannot be reconciled with the government on this matter.”

The Green Party’s only member of parliament, Caroline Lucas, was arrested in 2013 for protesting against fracking in Balcombe, Sussex, and was later cleared of any offenses.

Lancashire County Council today said in an e-mailed statement that it’ll defer a decision on planning applications for two sites after Cuadrilla submitted new proposals to address concerns about noise and traffic. That followed a recommendation last week by Lancashire planners that the council should reject the applications.

“The additional information we have provided on further mitigation measures will, we believe, fully address the noise and traffic concerns raised by the Planning Officers in their recommendation to refuse planning permission for both sites,” Cuadrilla said today in a statement on their website.

Lancashire’s Bowland basin alone is estimated to hold as much as 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to meet U.K. demand for half a century.

Scotland’s Ewing said there may be opportunities in unconventional oil and gas. “We should never close our minds to the potential opportunities of new technologies -- but we must also ensure that community, environmental and health concerns are never simply brushed aside,” he said.

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