Judge says there is 'no ban'

Ratcliffe’s Scottish fracking appeal thrown out by court

Jim Ratcliffe

Energy group Ineos lost its bid to overturn the Scottish government’s restriction on fracking but only after a judge ruled there was no ban on the practice.

The Court of Session threw out a petition by Ineos Upstream Ltd – headed by the UK’s richest man Jim Ratcliffe – and Reach Coal Seam Ltd.

They challenged the government’s halt to the extraction of gas unconventional oil and gas – which includes fracking and coalbed methane extraction.

However, the verdict was overshadowed by a revelation from the judge that the government had not banned fracking as it had claimed and therefore there was no case to answer.

Lord Pentland, said statements about fracking being banned were “mistaken and did not accurately reflect the legal position.

“There is indeed no prohibition against fracking in force at the present time,” he said. Rather than a ban, Lord Pentland said there was an “emerging and unfinalised planning policy.

“I conclude that since there is no prohibition against fracking, the petitioners’ case is unfounded. Their application for judicial review of the alleged ban must accordingly fail.”

Business minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “I welcome the Court of Session’s ruling on this important issue, which has been a cause of acute concern in communities across Scotland.

“This decision  vindicates the extensive process of research and consultation which the Scottish Government has undertaken since 2015.

“As I set out in October, our preferred position is not to support unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland, and that position remains unchanged.

“I have repeatedly set out to parliament that we would undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) ahead of finalising that position and that approach has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament.

“The work to complete the SEA and a Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment is currently underway and the findings will be carefully considered.

“In the meantime, a moratorium is in place which means no local authority can grant planning permission and Ministers would defer any decision on any planning application that did come forward until the policymaking process  is completed.

“The practical effect of the current moratorium and the policymaking process which is underway to finalise our position is that no fracking can take place in Scotland at this time.”

SNP MSP for Falkirk East Angus MacDonald said:  “The Scottish Government’s actions won the backing of the Scottish Parliament – and today’s ruling completely supports the steps taken by both. 

“Following this decision there is no change to policy on fracking in Scotland and communities can rest easy that permission is not about to be given for fracking near their homes. 

“The Scottish Government is rightly making sure that future policy is robust and can be defended against any further legal challenges.  

“The SNP has taken a cautious, evidence-led approach to this issue, and that has been upheld as the right approach by the court today.”

Opposition MSPs took a different view. Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett claimed the SNP had deliberately misled businesses and communities on fracking.

He said: “The SNP has spent the last year deliberately misleading not only businesses who want to invest millions in Scotland, but communities too.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat energy spokesman Liam McArthur MSP said: “There will be relief that this legal challenge proved unsuccessful but communities at risk of being fracked will have been unimpressed to see Scottish Government spin laid bare.

“The First Minister has been adamant in her description of an outright fracking ban. Her legal counsel dismissed this as PR bluster.”

Ineos has been importing gas for its Scottish operations from fracking mines in the US and wanted to exploit reserves in Scotland. Supporters of the process say it would create a new industry providing thousands of jobs.

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