Protesters in Perth.
Protesters at the SNP conference in Perth, October 2013. Image by the author.

From today there will be a moratorium on all unconventional oil and gas extraction“, Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has just announced.

The announcement is nothing short of historic, with Scotland now added to a growing list of countries which have paused or banned unconventional fossil fuels.

Ewing addressed the Scottish Parliament to clarify Scottish Government policy on unconventional oil and gas, including fracking, following a flurry of policy announcements on Saturday by Labour and the SNP, and Monday’s vote on the UK infrastructure bill.

The minister said the moratorium would “remain in place until evidence gathering was complete” while announcing a public inquiry on the impacts of unconventional oil and gas for Scotland.  He said the inquiry would gather new information about health and environmental impacts.

Today’s speech had been seen by campaigners as a last chance to secure an SNP policy change on the issue before the UK general election.

The announcement is a remarkable shift from the SNP’s previous position which cautiously welcomed unconventional oil and gas drilling.  It is all the more surprising as it comes as a time where low oil prices have led to considerable concern about job losses in Scotland’s massive North Sea oil industry.

The news will be a relief to the community in Airth, Falkirk, who are threatened by an application to drill for coal bed methane.  They were awaiting for the outcome of a public local inquiry, but drilling in the area now must await a national inquiry before it can proceed.

It is bad news for companies such as iGas, INEOS, and the Weir Group, who have spent the last two years talking up the prospects of Scottish onshore fossil fuels.

The change is a clear victory for campaigners who have fought fracking and coal bed methane in Scotland, including Friends of the Earth Scotland, the Concerned Communities of Falkirk, the Scottish Greens, and a plethora of local networks and groups.  With a busy month of further anti-fossil fuel events and actions ahead, there is a real prospect of turning this moratorium into a full ban.