Nicola Sturgeon was last night accused of “misleading” the people of Scotland and engaging in “Alice-in-Wonderland” politics after it emerged in court that the Scottish government has not banned fracking, despite claiming to have done so.
Petrochemical giant Ineos and Reach took Scottish ministers to court this week for a judicial review in a bid to overturn an “effective ban” on fracking that was announced in October, which Ineos argued was unlawful.
But Scottish government lawyers told the court that an outright ban was not in place and a final decision on the controversial practice is due to be made later this year.
A moratorium, or temporary halt, on fracking had been announced by Scottish ministers in 2015. After two years of consultation, energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said the government would “effectively ban” fracking by introducing a new planning policy of “no support”, citing widespread public opposition.
First Minister Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party (SNP) have trumpeted their “ban” on multiple occasions. Sturgeon last year told the Scottish parliament that people “should welcome the fact that fracking in Scotland is banned”, while the SNP hailed the effective ban in October by tweeting “Scotland bans fracking”.
Ineos Shale’s operations director Tom Pickering said the company was “astonished” by the government’s “staggering U-turn” and slammed the Scottish National Party for creating uncertainty for businesses operating in the country.
“The Scottish people and parliament may find this revelation barely believable, when the government has repeatedly told Holyrood that there is an effective and immediate ban,” Pickering said.
“Sadly we seem to have reached the Alice-in-Wonderland situation where a business has to go to the Scottish courts to establish whether announcements in Holyrood can be taken at face value.”
The judicial review was held from Tuesday to yesterday and a judgement is expected in due course.
Ineos, which is the biggest player in the UK’s shale oil and gas industry, owns two fracking licences in Scotland and imports fracked shale gas from the US to process at its Grangemouth plant in east Stirlingshire.
The company, co-founded and led by tycoon Jim Ratcliffe, had claimed nurturing the shale oil and gas industry would create an estimated 3,100 Scottish jobs and bring £1bn to local communities.
Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett said: “It’s no wonder Ineos are furious at the pathetic stance of the SNP on this issue.
“Either Nicola Sturgeon is misleading the people of Scotland, or the lawyers she hired are misleading a court of law – they can’t both be right.
“This is a damaging fiasco, and calls into question almost anything this SNP government says and does.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The Scottish government’s preferred position is that it does not support the development of unconventional oil and gas. As we have made clear, this position is subject to a Strategic Environmental Assessment. It remains inappropriate to comment further during the judicial review.”