The Scottish government has imposed a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas exploration activities to allow further research and a public consultation to be carried out.

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said that no consents would be issued for ‘fracking’ operations. He said that the government would undertake a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction, commission a full public health impact assessment and conduct work on strengthening planning guidance and environmental regulations.

"The Scottish government has taken a cautious, considered and evidence-based approach to unconventional oil and gas and fracking," said Ewing. "We recognise that local communities are likely to bear the brunt of any unconventional oil and gas developments, particularly in terms of increased traffic and related emissions and noise impacts. These are issues that must be researched further."

The move came just days after a proposal to impose a UK-wide moratorium on fracking – the method used to extract shale gas – was rejected by Westminster MPs. However the UK government’s proposals to ‘fast-track’ shale gas developments was defeated.

Laterin January a local council in north-west England delayed a decision to grant shale gas firm Cuadrilla consent to carry out shale gas exploration activities at two sites.

The developments have been widely welcomed by environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace. UKOOG, a trade body representing onshore oil and gas operators in the UK, also welcomed the Scottish government’s decision.

"We recognise that the general public have concerns about the issues around fracking and welcome this opportunity to present the facts to the Scottish people," said Ken Cronin, CEO of UKOOG. "Scotland needs an energy mix that covers all the nation’s needs. Four fifths of Scotland’s heat and many everyday items come from natural gas. However Scotland in 2020 could be importing three quarters of its gas potentially from other less stable countries.

"Onshore gas and oil will benefit the Scottish economy, not only directly, with jobs created through oil and gas extraction, but also indirectly, as oil and gas is a critical raw material for the chemicals industry at facilities such as Grangemouth."

Ewing stressed that the Scottish government’s consultation would take evidence from all interested parties, including chemical giant Ineos, which has announced plans to undertake fracking operations in Scotland in order to provide feedstock for its Grangemouth refinery.

In January Ineos slammed a report by a group of MPs calling for a UK-wide moratorium on fracking. "The UK needs shale gas and we know that Ineos has the skills to safely extract it from the ground without damaging the environment," said Ineos Director, Tom Crotty. "We have committed to consultation with local communities and to give them six per cent of the entire revenue from our shale gas wells.

"Without shale gas, UK manufacturing will start to collapse so we need to kick start the shale gas industry, not put it on hold."

In Lancashire, a local council has instigated an eight-week public consultation period after Cuadrilla submitted additional documents supporting its application to explore for shale gas at two sites.

The firm’s planning application had been recommended for refusal because of concerns over increased traffic and noise pollution at the two sites, between Blackpool and Preston.

Cuadrilla said in a statement that it recognised the careful consideration given by the council to its application and its request to defer its decision to allow Cuadrilla to submit more documents. "The additional information we have provided on further mitigation measures will, we believe, fully address the noise and traffic concerns raised by the planning officers in their recommendation to refuse planning permission for both sites," it said.

Sian Crampsie