On Tuesday Energy Minister Amber Rudd MP confirmed during a debate on the UK Infrastructure Bill in Parliament that Scotland would be exempt from provisions in the bill that would allow firms to drill at depths of 300 metres under private homes or land without consent from the owner. The decision, which follows sustained and vocal criticism from Labour and the Scottish National Party over the failure of the UK Government to engage with the Scottish Government on the proposals, was described as a “victory for common sense” by the Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing.
This is just the latest in what is likely to a number of high-profile developments relating to onshore oil and gas exploration in Scotland this year. Ineos, which operates the Grangemouth Petrochemical complex which is a major employer for Scotland as well as the country’s only oil refinery, has recently acquired 729 sq miles of exploration licences in Scotland with a view to developing synergies with Grangemouth. Whilst there will undoubtedly be public and political demands to slow down or prevent fracking in Scotland, that couldn’t cut very directly across Ineos plans to turn around Grangemouth – especially following a high-profile stand-off over its closure at the tail end of 2013. Should fracking be prevented in Scotland, that could potentially conflict with Ineos wider interests.
Politicians at Westminster are keen to avoid being put in a position where they are seen as deciding on fracking issues north of the border, and in that regard they have passed the matter back to Holyrood for a decision. Expect energy to be one of the key battlegrounds in the forthcoming election campaign. All of the parties will be setting out their stalls to convince voters that their policies will help keep prices down and keep the lights switched on.
As ever energy projects are almost always controversial. Just this week the RSPB has lodged a legal challenge to offshore wind proposals, and a Solar Wind Farm in Perthshire has hit the headlines. Energy matters, but it’s seldom easy to deliver.