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Anti-fracking protesters in the streets of Falkirk, Scotland, Sunday 7 December 2014. (Photo: Ric Lander/cc/flickr)

Anti-fracking protesters in the streets of Falkirk, Scotland, Sunday 7 December 2014. (Photo: Ric Lander/cc/flickr)

Could Drilling Moratorium be 'Nail in Coffin' for Fracking in Scotland?

Energy Minister announces halt on new drilling permits until complete examination of health and environmental is done

Citing public health and safety concerns, the Scottish government on Wednesday announced a ban against fracking until "the voices of the communities likely to be most affected are heard."

Introduced by Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, the new policy places an open-ended moratorium on granting permits for unconventional gas drilling in the country.

"Fergus Ewing’s announcement today is huge victory for the communities, individuals and groups who have been campaigning to stop this dirty industry in Scotland," said Dr. Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland. "This moratorium is a very big nail in the coffin for the unconventional gas and fracking industry in Scotland."

Speaking before the Members of Scottish Parliament, or MSPs, at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Ewing  said: "I want to ensure that the voices of the communities likely to be most affected are heard, and are heard in a more formal and structured way."

"I am therefore announcing today that in addition to the technical work I've referred to on planning, environmental regulation and upon assessing the impact on public health, Scottish ministers will also launch a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction."

He added: "Given the importance of this work, it would be inappropriate to allow any planning consents in the meantime."

"I'm therefore announcing today a moratorium on the granting of planning consents for all unconventional oil and gas developments. This moratorium will continue until such time as the work I've referred to today has been completed."

Though Ewing's proposal falls short of the outright ban sought by environmentalists and other concerned residents, Dixon said he is confident that any serious examination of the "mounting evidence of health and environmental concerns" will lead to a full ban.

"The Scottish Government has acted decisively today to protect communities across the country and the environment from this unnecessary industry," Dixon continued. "The Government's decision today is testament to the perseverance of people and communities around the country who have tirelessly fought this industry in recent years."

Scotland now joins France, Ireland, the Netherlands and New York State in the list of governments that have some level of ban against the drilling practice, which injects a mixture of sand, water, and an unknown cocktail of chemicals underground to release gas trapped in shale rock formations. Scotland's moratorium comes days after the U.K. Parliament voted overwhelmingly against a proposed U.K.-wide fracking ban.

According to recent polling, just 15 percent of people in Scotland support fracking, while 54 percent are opposed to the practice, the Herald Scotland reports. Less than 8 percent said they'd support fracking it if happened "elsewhere."

World Wildlife Fund Scotland director Lang Banks also welcomed the news, though he warned that it did not completely shut the door on fossil fuel extraction. "It's now time for the Scottish Government to come off the fence and finally rule out the development of shale and other unconventional fossil fuels north of the border," Banks said.

Banks continued: "The climate science is clear, the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground and not burned. Scotland should instead be playing to its natural advantages in clean, green renewable energy."

One point of disappointment for environmental groups is the failure of the moratorium to restrict the practice of underground coal gasification—an extraction method where coal is set fire underground and gas is collected at the surface. This "desperate method" of fossil fuel extraction, says Dixon, has been linked to serious pollution.

He added: "Going after new fossil fuels is the last thing we need in the context of the latest, urgent warnings from climate science, and is not a responsible action for a country trying to meet its targets."

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