A legal challenge by a petrochemicals firm over an effective ban on fracking cost the Scottish Government around £175,000, according to figures obtained via a freedom of information (FOI) request.
Ministers were taken to court last year by Ineos and Aberdeen firm ReachCSG, who were seeking a judicial review of the Government’s preferred policy position of not supporting unconventional oil and gas development.
Following the hearing, a judge ruled that as a matter of law there is no prohibition against fracking in Scotland.
That was in contrast to Nicola Sturgeon’s comments in Holyrood in October 2017 after the Scottish Government had stated its moratorium outlawing the practice would be permanently extended.
Ms Sturgeon declared at the time: “Fracking is being banned in Scotland, end of story. There will be no fracking in Scotland. I don’t think that position could be any clearer.”
The Court of Session ruled while there had been “ministerial statements to the effect that there is an effective ban”, the Scottish Government had accepted this “did not accurately reflect the legal position”.
According to a freedom of information request by the Scottish Conservatives, the total cost incurred by the Scottish Government to pay for external legal advice for the case amounted to £173,928.
An additional £1,200 was spent on court fees, according to the FOI response.
Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett accused the Scottish Government of blowing public money on an “entirely avoidable” case.
He said: “The SNP deliberately misled the people of Scotland by saying there was a fracking ban – something even its own lawyers admitted was a nonsense.
“Now we learn this deceit cost the taxpayer more than £175,000.
“It’s not the first time the SNP has blown public money on an entirely avoidable court case.
“It’s yet another example of SNP incompetence at government level, and proof that the nationalists are completely unfit for office.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Court of Session found in favour of the Scottish Government on this important issue which has been a cause of acute concern in communities across Scotland.
“The Court of Session’s decision also vindicated the extensive process of research and consultation which the Scottish Government has undertaken since 2015.
“Our preferred position, which was supported by the Scottish Parliament, is not to support unconventional oil and gas extraction in Scotland. That position remains unchanged.
“This is subject to completion of the statutory strategic environmental assessment and business regulatory impact assessment, both of which will conclude by the end of this calendar year. In defending our preferred policy position, Scottish ministers were also defending the will of Parliament.”
SNP MSP Gillian Martin added: “The Tories should get their own house in order before criticising others. Their transport minister alone is estimated to have cost the taxpayer a staggering £2.7 billion, in the phantom ferries fiasco, and he’s still in a job.
“Incompetence has become the hallmark of this shambolic Tory Government – who seemingly cannot do anything without it turning to disaster.”