It is striking how far the Welsh Government have moved on this issue since July 2014, when Carl Sargeant issued this uncompromising 'clarification letter' stating in conclusion that:
The guidance provided in MPPW, (Mineral Planning Policy Wales) in conjunction with this clarification letter, should be taken into account by local planning authorities in Wales when making decisions on applications for unconventional oil and gas proposals.
There is no doubt that the sustained lobbying of the Welsh Government by many groups and individuals has had a significant effect on Ministers which was then helped along by Plaid Cymru's motion the week before this announcement and support from the government's own members for such motion. This was in striking contrast to the Labour abstentions in the moratorium amendment on the Infrastructure Bill.
The question now is, what will be the response of the industry to this 'moratorium'? UKOOG, the industry trade body were quick enough to issue a Press Release after the Scottish moratorium decision but have yet to comment on the Welsh decision; is this a good or bad sign, only time will tell.
Personally, I have some nagging doubts about how this will pan out; now from this direction it seems the Welsh Government have the planning side all covered but there is of course another angle and that is the Energy sector.
The Energy Sector in Wales is not devolved, so does that mean that Westminster or Cardiff takes precedence here or will UKOOG appeal this to the Supreme Court? It seems a possible scenario.
One will have also noted that the Direction does not say whether it applies to 'Onshore' or 'Offshore' exploration. This anomaly has already been identified by the Scottish Government in that they don't have the power to regulate offshore which could include UCG (Underground Coal Gasification). This could be a significant problem in North East Wales as Cluff Energy seeks licences for UCG for the Dee Estuary between Deeside and West Kirkby on the Wirral (which incidentally covers the wildlife and bird sanctuary on Hilbre Island). This undoubtedly will remain with the UK Government as offshore is the Crown Estates but is yet another anomaly.
For us in Wrecsam the next decision is in IGas's lap, do they proceed with their exploratory drilling at Borras Head, knowing full well that their application for extraction of gas/oil (at this moment in time) will not be allowed or do they just pull the plug on the whole project (or is that just wishful thinking on my part?)
Whatever happens, we need to continue to be alert, this is not the time to be complacent.