First shipment of US shale gas arrives in Scotland, renewing debate over future of fracking

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 27 September 2016 in News

Ineos said the ethane, which was delivered from US shale reserves, would help protect the future of its Grangemouth plant

The first shipment of US shale gas has arrived Scotland, sparking renewed debate over the future of fracking north of the border.

The Scottish Government introduced a moratorium on fracking last year, amid concern over the environmental effects of using the technique, in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into rock at high pressure to release gas.

Ineos said the ethane, which was delivered from US shale reserves, would help protect the future of its Grangemouth plant. But the company’s chairman, Jim Ratcliffe, faced criticism after attempting to downplay the possible environmental risk posed by fracking.


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Speaking on Radio Scotland, Ratcliffe said: “You have to accept the world is not perfect, chemicals is not a perfect world, occasionally we have spillages and we have incidents because we're not perfect. It's like occasionally you get a puncture in your car. However hard you try things go wrong occasionally. But do you want your hot shower in the morning? There is a balance.”

Environmental groups leapt on the comments, with Mary Church, Friends of the Earth Scotland's head of campaigns, describing Ratcliffe’s attitude as “cavalier”. She said: “You can fix a puncture in a matter of minutes. It may never be possible to fix groundwater contamination from leaking fracking wells.”

Meanwhile Green MSP Mark Ruskell said: “The glib attitude of Jim Ratcliffe is simply astounding. He compares the potential for contamination from fracking to an occasional car tyre puncture. That opinion will go down like a lead balloon in communities across Scotland currently under threat from frackers and coal gas drillers.

“If we want to guarantee a future for Grangemouth we should be investing in its conversion to synthetic fuels from renewable resources. Amid today’s PR puff from Ineos there has been no mention of climate change. The facts are clear. We need to start leaving fossil fuels in the ground, not go drilling for more.”

But Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser dismissed safety concerns, arguing that fracking could help lower energy bills and calling for the SNP to drop its “infantile objection” to fracking.

He said: “There is a startlingly blatant hypocrisy in the Scottish Government welcoming the arrival of shale, yet ruling Scotland out of ever generating its own. Frankly, it’s insulting that no Scottish Government minister could be bothered turning up to this arrival.

“Shale has the potential to ease the crisis being faced in North Sea oil, and reduce people’s energy bills, helping thousands out of fuel poverty. That’s why we think the extraction of shale in Scotland should be explored, before we miss out altogether.

“It is important that any exploration is done with strict environmental regulation, but the Scottish Government’s own advisory panel said this was possible back in 2014, and the SNP should recognise that.”

GMB yesterday voiced concern after Labour voted to ban fracking at its UK conference.

Gary Smith, the union’s regional secretary, said: “Hundreds of millions have been invested in Grangemouth. Tens of thousands of jobs depend on the site - calling for imported fracked gas to be stopped is campaigning for mass unemployment in central Scotland.

“Instead of indulging in King Canute stuff, the Greens should be entering in a real world debate about where we get our gas from.”

The Committee on Climate Change released a report earlier this year, which warned the exploitation of shale gas on a significant scale would be incompatible with UK carbon budgets, or the 2050 commitment to reduce emissions by at least 80 per cent, unless emissions were “strictly limited” during shale gas development, production and well decommissioning.

The CCC said meeting emissions targets would demand that overall gas consumption remained in line with UK carbon budgets – meaning the production of UK shale gas must displace imports, rather than increase overall gas consumption.

A new CCC report today warned that Scotland is already feeling the effects of climate change.

Church said: “To pursue a future for the INEOS plant based on the consumption of ever more fossil fuels is utterly irresponsible in the context of what we know about the devastating impacts of climate change. If Jim Ratcliffe was really concerned about the future of the Grangemouth plant and its workers he would be planning for its transition to a low carbon model.”

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