Now the Scottish government has confirmed that it will oppose proposals from the Westminster government to remove the right of householders to object to oil and gas drilling beneath their homes.
Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said that the final say on whether Scottish households should be stripped of their right to oppose such projects should be granted to Edinburgh, and stressed that a ‘yes’ vote in the upcoming independence referendum would give the government these powers.
“The Scottish government believes that there should be an evidence-based, cautious and considered approach to unconventional oil and gas, and that all of the decisions taken about it should be taken by the people of Scotland, through the parliament and government they elected,” he said in a statement.
“UK government proposals to remove the right of Scottish householders to object to drilling under their homes flies in the face of that approach and that is why we object to them. It is also fundamentally an issue affecting land ownership rights.”
He also accused the Westminster government of a “gung ho” approach to shale gas development, adding that it had failed adequately to consult with the Scottish government.
The nascent UK shale gas industry has to date been focused on the south east and north west of England, but some studies have suggested that there could be shale gas reserves in southern Scotland. However, Ewing insisted that the Scottish government wanted to take a more cautious approach to assessing this opportunity.
“Whatever your view on the issue of unconventional oil and gas – and it is clear that there are opportunities and concerns – there is only one way that the people of Scotland can determine the approach in Scotland – including beneath their homes and land,” he said. “That is to take the power to deal with this issue away from Westminster and that can only be done with the powers of independence.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said that the Scottish government’s position would be considered as part of the consultation on the proposed regulatory changes, which closes today. However, she added that the UK government remained committed to making it easier for shale gas reserves to be exploited in a responsible manner.
“Unlocking shale gas will be key to ensuring our long-term economic and energy security, as well as giving us a bridge to a greener future,” she said in an emailed statement. “Our proposals would allow shale development to go ahead while offering a fair deal for communities and protecting the environment. Many other industries already access underground land beneath people’s homes, for example to lay water pipes and tunnels. These are much closer to the surface than the access concerned here. Shale gas and oil operations involve wells drilled around a mile down. Ministers will now look at all of the consultation responses and then announce the next steps.”
Her comments were echoed by the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG), which represents the fracking industry and today issued a statement backing the government’s proposed changes to trespass rules. “The industry supports government proposals to give automatic access rights to underground land below 300 metres, bringing it in line with other industries such as water, gas, electricity and sewage,” it said. “The current system involves significant potential delays and costs without benefit either to the company or the landowner.”
It also downplayed concerns that fracking projects could lead to disruption to landowners through tremors and other environmentla impacts. “Horizontal drilling for natural gas and oil from shale typically uses a well of 6-9 inches in diameter at least a mile below the surface,” it said. “This underground activity will not be noticeable at the surface and will not impact on the enjoyment landowners have of their property at the surface. At this depth, the land is not in use by the landowner.”