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Moratorium on fracking in Scotland

The controversy over fracking in the UK has deepened as Scotland imposed a ban on giving the green light to new schemes amid ongoing public opposition to the process.

Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing announced a moratorium on granting planning consents for fracking developments to allow a full public consultation on the issue.

The move came as Lancashire County Council was forced to delay a decision on two proposed new fracking sites for at least eight weeks to consider new information from a shale company facing the prospect of its applications being turned down.

In a week when the Government promised an outright ban on fracking in national parks and accepted Labour moves to set "necessary conditions" restricting the shale industry as it faced down calls for a UK moratorium, public opposition continues to outstrip support.

A new online survey of 1,000 people found that two fifths (40%) were against fracking, while a quarter (25%) were in favour of it going ahead in the UK.

Around one in 10 (11%) were happy for fracking to go ahead but "not in my backyard", while almost a quarter (24%) did not know whether it should happen in the UK, the poll by Usurv revealed.

Almost half of those questioned in the North West (45%), where much of the shale gas resources are thought to be, said they were against it going ahead, with just 22% in favour of it, and 13% saying it could happen but not in their backyard.

And in Scotland just 15% of people thought fracking should go ahead, while 54% were against it, and less than 8% were happy for it to happen elsewhere.

Environmental campaigners had called on the Scottish Government to rule out hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", for shale gas after the move to introduce a UK-wide moratorium was heavily defeated at Westminster.

Holyrood currently has control over planning, with powers over onshore oil and gas licensing and mineral access rights due to be transferred as part of the Smith Commission agreement on further devolution.

Making a statement to MSPs at Holyrood, Mr 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."

In Lancashire, the decision on two new fracking sites on the Fylde Coast between Preston and Blackpool has been delayed for at least eight weeks after county councillors were told it would be unlawful to consider the matter today.

Planning officers at Lancashire County Council recommended last week that energy firm Cuadrilla should not be granted permission to explore for shale gas at Preston New Road, Little Plumpton, and at Roseacre, over noise and traffic concerns.

Cuadrilla submitted additional information to mitigate those concerns, which it said would require proper consultation, forcing angry and "heavy-hearted" council members to defer the matter.

Councillor Stephen Holgate, who abstained in the 13-1 vote in favour of deferral, said he felt as if the planning committee was being undermined by "too many people dip ping their fingers into responsibilities that are not theirs".

He said that this "goes right to the top, unfortunately" as he referred to a leaked letter from Chancellor George Osborne which showed his efforts to push the shale industry in the UK, urging Cabinet colleagues to make it a "personal priority".

Mr Osborne called for progress on developing three or four "exemplar drilling sites" to prove the concept of safe shale gas exploration, contingency plans if Lancashire County Council turned down planning applications and a strategy to push fracking to the public.

More than 100 anti-fracking protesters gathered outside County Hall to make their views known on Cuadrilla's plans.

Speaking at County Hall, Cuadrilla's chief executive Francis Egan said: "It is important that a decision of that import is taken with all the information on the table and we have put forward more information which we believe will address the very few outstanding issues that the planning officers have identified.

"We did not appreciate until very late in the process ... areas we had approved before would not get approved this time. As you saw today, it's frustrating for everybody both for and against, but we have to work through the process."

Lancashire's planning officers had recommended that both sites should be turned down because of concerns over noise impacts which would "unnecessarily and unacceptably" affect neighbouring properties.

The proposed developments, which would have 24-hour drilling operations running for months at a time, would lead to a "significant increase in night-time background noise levels", a report from the officials said.

At the Roseacre Wood site, the report said there would be an increase in traffic, particularly heavy goods vehicles, which would result in "an unacceptable impact" on rural roads and reduce road safety.

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