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Green Madness: Freeze On Fracking Could Cost Scots Hundreds Of Millions

Mike Wade & Paris Gourtsoyannis, The Times

Scotland could lose out on hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in a shale energy boom after the UK government announced yesterday that it would fast-track fracking proposals.

Greg Clark, the UK communities secretary, said that the Westminster government intended to go “all out for shale” by actively considering “calling in” any application for shale gas exploration and extraction from councils, bypassing local opposition.

However, the Scottish government has placed a moratorium on fracking in Scotland while consultation takes place on environmental concerns.

The Scottish Conservatives warned last night that the delay could damage the Scottish economy, with significant planned investment in the fledgling industry going instead to England.

A Conservative spokesman said: “The Scottish government has junked all rational debate to play to the gallery. The moratorium has been introduced despite its own independent advisers recommending that fracking be given the go-ahead.

“They have failed to look at the issue rationally, and the country is being left behind. We could lose out on thousands of jobs.”

Ineos, the petrochemical giant, said the UK government’s move would “break the logjam that has developed in some areas of the country” and would “help England in particular” reap the benefit of fracking investment.

Ineos, which employs 1,300 people at its plant in Grangemouth, owns licences to frack for gas across 700 square miles of the central belt of Scotland. The firm says it will invest £640 million in shale gas extraction in the UK and use the fuel in its refineries. Construction is almost complete on a 60,000 cubic metre tank at Grangemouth to store imported shale gas from the United States.

However, industry sources believe further investment in domestic shale gas production would be focused on its sites at Runcorn and Hull in England if the Scottish government moratorium remains in place.

A spokesman for the firm said: “Ineos has welcomed the UK government’s plan to fast-track shale gas planning applications while ensuring that local people continue to have a strong say on the development of shale gas exploration in their areas.

“This positive early action should help break the logjam that has developed in some areas of the country and gives first-mover advantage to those communities willing to quickly embrace the shale gas revolution.

“Ineos has no doubt that this move will help England in particular, as a first mover in Europe, build a large and successful indigenous shale gas industry, creating jobs and future export opportunities.”

The UK government said yesterday that councils repeatedly taking longer than the statutory 16 weeks to make a decision face having shale gas planning decisions made by the communities secretary — unless they have agreed with applicants to extend the time frame. Mr Clark will also take charge of determining appeals against planning rejections on a case-by-case basis, while all call-ins and appeals over shale applications will be prioritised by the planning inspectorate.

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