The Scottish Government has accidentally revealed its updated position on fracking, with ministers set to confirm a policy of “no support” for the controversial gas extraction technique.
MSPs await a ministerial update on Thursday on the issue, however, an administrative blunder saw details published online a day early.
The leak, since removed, was published alongside the results of a consultation on fracking carried out between April and June.
A moratorium on fracking has been in place in Scotland since 2015.
Then, two years ago, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse announced planning regulations would be used to “effectively ban” the practice by extending the moratorium “indefinitely”.
The Scottish Government argues this approach – instead of a direct legislative ban – protects its policy from being overturned in the courts.
In 2018, petrochemical giant Ineos took Scottish ministers to the Court of Session over its stance, but was ruled against after the judge said the government’s “ban” had “no legal force”.
The accidentally leaked government document, published earlier on Wednesday before being taken down, said its most recent consultation closed on June 25, with the findings independently analysed.
It continued: “On October 3 2019, the Scottish Government confirmed its final position of no support for unconventional oil and gas (UOG).
“The responses to this consultation, along with the 2017 Talking ‘Fracking’ consultation and 2018 consultation on statutory and other assessments, were considered in detail by ministers prior to the finalisation of this policy.”
Liam McArthur, energy spokesman for the Scottish Lib Dems, said: “The Scottish Government appeared to have confirmed their position on fracking via documents published accidentally online, rather than by announcing it to parliament more than three years ago when Liberal Democrats pressed them to introduce a ban.
“Across Central Scotland, communities sat on or near sites potentially earmarked for fracking have been living in fear of what the Scottish Government might decide.
“By dragging their feet, ministers have imposed years of uncertainty on those people and their communities.”
He added: “Nicola Sturgeon stood up in Parliament and declared that fracking was banned, then her government’s lawyers stood up in the Court of Session and argued that it wasn’t.
“Now that the Scottish Government are finally set to commit to doing the right thing, it’s time for an all-out assault on Scotland’s emissions.”
Scottish Greens’ energy spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “This indication that the Scottish Government might provide some much-needed clarity is welcome, but the devil will be in the detail of exactly what the minister announces.
“A fudged moratorium only keeps the door to legal uncertainties open.
“I hope we see a commitment to a watertight legislative ban on fracking, but it needs to be part of a wider real commitment to reduce our reliance on gas.”
Nothing has really changed – there will continue to be no fracking in Scotland.
If you ask the Scottish Government they will tell you that there is no ban on fracking.
In fact, the courts ruled last year that talk of an “effective ban” by energy minister Paul Wheelhouse had no legal force.
So, this will not be called a ban by ministers but in an accidental leak today the Scottish Government announced it’s “final policy position is of no support for unconventional oil and gas”.
It was leaked because a civil servant put the wrong date on when the policy update should be sent to the Scottish Government website – it appeared exactly 24 hours before the energy minister was due to update MSPs.
It’s bad news for Ineos because it means there is no chance of licensing for fracking let alone planning permission.
But it is good news for more than 60,000 people who responded to the government’s consultation opposing it, particularly after shale gas exploration in England caused an earthquake of 2.9 on the Richter scale last month – which is not enough to damage buildings, but enough to notice.