Scottish government announces greater planning protection for communities facing fracking

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Scottish Planning Minister Derek McKay has launched the government’s vision for planning in Scotland. It sets out long term economic development and local planning policy in areas such as transport, town centres, energy and infrastructure, and seeks to balance economic growth with protection of the environment.

Commenting on measures to protect communities from gas drilling and fracking, Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church said:

“Whilst we are disappointed that the Scottish Government has not taken this opportunity to block shale gas fracking and coalbed methane drilling north of the border altogether, we cautiously welcome these new planning protections for communities.

“It is good news that the Government has closed a worrying loophole whereby developers seeking to extract coalbed methane could apply for permits to frack coal seams after planning permission had been granted, with no community consultation.

“The inclusion of buffer zone protection for communities and environmentally sensitive areas is welcome and means fracking companies will find Scotland a more difficult place to do business. We look forward to seeing further details on this issue in guidance promised by the Planning Minister today. It is of vital important that this guidance ensures risk assessments and buffer zones cover the underground infrastructure associated with unconventional gas drilling and fracking, as key pollution risks can occur the length of horizontal bores.

“Given the complexity of the issues at stake and rapidly emerging evidence as to the health risks of onshore gas extraction, Government policy must be kept under constant review to ensure that communities are getting the protection they need, and local authorities are getting the right support to determine complex applications.  We welcome the Minister’s assurance that these policies could be revisited.

“With the UK launch of a new onshore gas licensing round imminent, in which a vast swathe of the central belt of Scotland could be handed over to fracking companies, we urge the Scottish Government to go further and ban all unconventional gas extraction.

“Unconventional gas is unnecessary, unsafe and unwanted. Communities in the USA and Australia are already suffering from health impacts associated with the industry, and going after a new source of fossil fuel will seriously jeopardise our ability to meet future climate change targets, and put our important renewables industry at risk.”

Speaking about the measures, Mr McKay said:

“This new policy gives serious consideration to concerns over unconventional oil and gas with five main changes to strengthen planning policy.

“These include new rules on hydraulic fracturing which will compel operators to consult with the public.

“In addition, buffer zones will be established to protect communities and these will be assessed by planning authorities and statutory consultees.

“Any application for coalbed methane or shale gas projects must comply with the appropriate regulatory regimes, including SEPA’s guidance on the regulation of shale gas and coalbed methane.”