Scottish ministers say they want devolved powers on oil and gas drilling in Scotland after Westminster announced it will press ahead with plans to allow fracking companies to drill below people’s land without their agreement.
The UK-wide plan would give companies the right to drill at depths of 300 metres or more under private land without negotiating a right of access.
Scotland’s Energy Minister said decisions on oil and gas drilling in Scotland should be made by the people who live there. The UK Government responded, saying that most of the powers needed to make decisions on the matter are already devolved to Holyrood.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) ran a consultation earlier this year asking whether the Government should legislate for underground access to gas, oil and geothermal developers below 300 metres.
More than 99% of the 40,647 respondents opposed the idea but the DECC said it will continue with the proposed policy, saying it is the “right approach”.
Mr Ewing said: “Whatever your view on the issue of unconventional oil and gas – and it is clear that there are both 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.
“That is with the devolution of the necessary powers to Scotland and the current devolution process for the ‘extensive new powers’ promised in the vow should include these powers.
“Unconventional oil and gas developments should only ever happen under a robust regulatory regime, and the Scottish Government takes this issue particularly seriously.”
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock and release the gas trapped in it. Wells can be drilled horizontally, leading to exploration under land around the site.
Companies looking to develop shale gas and oil would still need to obtain all the necessary environmental and planning permissions but the proposed legislation would effectively remove the issue of trespass at depths of 300 metres or more.
Under the proposals, people living on the ground above a horizontal well extending more than 200 metres would receive a payment of £20,000.
A UK Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government statement ignores the fact most of the powers needed to make Scottish decisions on this matter are already devolved to Holyrood.
“It is simply misleading to claim that householders will lose their say. The Scottish Parliament already has all the necessary powers to decide on application of this approach in Scotland, as planning policy is devolved to the Parliament and is unaffected by these proposals.
“All decisions on whether or not to grant planning and permitting consent for shale development in Scotland remain with local authorities, the Scottish environmental regulator Sepa, and ultimately with the Scottish Government. This means that local communities in Scotland will still have full powers to decide whether to approve or decline any proposed shale or geothermal developments in Scotland.”
Shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex said: “Shale gas extraction must only be permitted to happen in Scotland and across the UK with robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring. Too often, David Cameron’s Government have ignored genuine and legitimate environmental concerns in pursuit of a rhetoric-led policy.
“Labour is pushing the Government to close a number of loopholes in the current regulation and put existing good practice on to a statutory footing. We will force companies to publicly disclose what chemicals are used in shale gas extraction and to ensure that Environmental Impact Assessments are conducted at all sites. Anyone looking to extract shale gas in the UK will also be required to conduct baseline assessments over 12 months, setting an accurate standard by which we can identify any impact on the local environment.
The Labour MP added: “With eight out of 10 homes still reliant on gas for heating, and with declining North Sea gas reserves, shale may have a role to play in displacing imported gas. The type of relentless hype from many Tories not only overplays the likely impact of shale, but also leaves many feeling their concerns have not been properly addressed.”
Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends Of The Earth Scotland, said: “This is literally legislating for the 1%.