No fracking joy yet for Sir Jim and Ineos

Ineos founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe
Ineos founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe

Ineos founder Jim Ratcliffe may have received a knighthood this month but the billionaire will still have to wait to get cracking on fracking in Scotland.

The petrochemical giant lost its legal action to force the Scottish Government to reverse its supposed “ban” on fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – when Judge Lord Pentland ruled against Ineos in its bid to have the SNP administration’s policy on the process declared unlawful.

The firm had gone to Edinburgh’s Court of Session earlier in the year, its lawyers arguing the government had effectively banned fracking.

In coming to his decision today, Lord Pentand said: “I consider the government’s legal position is soundly based and there is indeed no prohibition against fracking in force at the present time.

“What exists at present is an emerging and unfinalized policy expressing no support on the part of the Scottish Government for the development or extraction of unconventional oil and gas in Scotland.

“The process of policy development is not yet complete – the important stages of a strategic environmental assessment and a business and regulatory impact assessment have still to be carried out.”

Both sides have now declared today’s judgement as a victory for their respective camps.

Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish energy minister, said: “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 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.”

A defiant Ineos stated the Court of Session judgement proved there was no ban on fracking in Scotland.

Tom Pickering, Ineos operations director, said: “We are grateful to Lord Pentland for clarifying there is no fracking ban. The Scottish Government caved in to pressure from ill-informed environmental activists.

“He has ruled there is no fracking ban in Scotland. We are sure this will be a surprise to all those who heard the First Minister and others repeatedly tell Holyrood the exact opposite.

“It is for MSPs to decide whether parliament was misled deliberately or simply through incompetence.”

According to Ineos, with an environmental assessment and business and regulatory assessments still to be carried out, there may never be a fracking ban in Scotland.