Revised Scottish Planning Policy includes unconventional gas buffer zones

The revised Scottish Planing Policy (SPP) released today, June 23 2014, stipulates the inclusion of risk assessments and buffer zones in all proposals for shale gas and coal bed methane extraction. The relevant clauses in the SPP are reproduced below.

  1. To assist planning authorities with their consideration of impacts on local communities, neighbouring uses and the environment, applicants should undertake a risk assessment for all proposals for shale gas and coal bed methane extraction. The assessment can, where appropriate, be undertaken as part of any environmental impact assessment and should also be developed in consultation with statutory consultees and local communities so that it informs the design of the proposal. The assessment should clearly identify those onsite activities (i.e. emission of pollutants, the creation and disposal of waste) that pose a potential risk using a source–pathway–receptor model and explain how measures, including those under environmental and other legislation, will be used to monitor, manage and mitigate any identified risks to health, amenity and the environment. The evidence from, and outcome of, the assessment should lead to buffer zones being proposed in the application which will protect all sensitive receptors from unacceptable risks. When considering applications, planning authorities and statutory consultees must assess the distances proposed by the applicant. Where proposed distances are considered inadequate the Scottish Government expects planning permission to be refused.
  2. Conditions should be drafted in a way which ensures that hydraulic fracturing does not take place where permission for such operations is not sought and that any subsequent application to do so is subject to appropriate consultation. If such operations are subsequently proposed, they should, as a matter of planning policy, be regarded as a substantial change in the description of the development for which planning permission is sought or a material variation to the existing planning permission. Where PEDL and Underground Coal licences are granted for the same or overlapping areas, consideration should be given to the most efficient sequencing of extraction.

Sensitive receptors are defined in the SPP as the "Aspect of the environment likely to be significantly affected by a development, which may include for example, population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, landscape and the interrelationship between these factors".

A comment on the revised SPP

Commenting on the measures introduced in the SPP to protect communities from gas drilling and fracking, Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church said:

"Whilst we are disappointed that the Scottish Government has not taken this opportunity to block shale gas fracking and coalbed methane drilling north of the border altogether, we cautiously welcome these new planning protections for communities.

"It is good news that the Government has closed a worrying loophole whereby developers seeking to extract coalbed methane could apply for permits to frack coal seams after planning permission had been granted, with no community consultation.

"The inclusion of buffer zone protection for communities and environmentally sensitive areas is welcome and means fracking companies will find Scotland a more difficult place to do business. We look forward to seeing further details on this issue in guidance promised by the Planning Minister today. It is of vital important that this guidance ensures risk assessments and buffer zones cover the underground infrastructure associated with unconventional gas drilling and fracking, as key pollution risks can occur the length of horizontal bores."

What does this mean for the Dart Energy planning application in Falkirk?

According to Mary Church who met with Derek Mackay, the Scottish Government's Planning Minister, on Jun 17, "the new planning policy applies to applications for unconventional gas extraction that are not yet decided, including Dart Energy’s proposal for commercial coalbed methane extraction at Airth".

The Department for Planning and Environmental Appeals who are to decide that application intend to take further evidence over the summer on the new planning policy before making a decision. See the Dart Energy Public Inquiry section of this website for details.

Publication date: 

Monday, June 23, 2014