US fracked gas blamed for ‘human suffering, environmental destruction’ arrives in UK

© Tomas Østberg-Jacobsen
Britain’s first imported shipment of US fracked gas has arrived in Scotland despite an increasingly heated debate about the future of the controversial energy extraction method.

On Tuesday, petrochemical giant Ineos delivered a tanker carrying 27,500m3 of ethane to Grangemouth, Scotland, where the company owns a giant refinery, marking the start of a £1.6 billion ($2 billion) investment.

The tanker was prevented from docking by high winds and is now anchored outside the port in the Forth estuary. A fresh attempt will be made around midnight.

What Ineos has named its “virtual pipeline” will involve eight ships making repeated journeys between the US, the UK and Norway, with a delivery of liquefied ethane about once every five days.

Jim Ratcliffe, founder and billionaire chairman of Ineos, says the shipments of shale gas will replace dwindling supplies from the ageing UK Continental Shelf, support 10,000 jobs and could help stop the decline of British manufacturing.

“There simply is insufficient raw material coming out of the North Sea to run Grangemouth,” Ratcliffe told the Times.

“We’re talking about 10,000 jobs in total that depend on the Grangemouth facility, so if it were not for the shale gas we are bringing in from the USA, Grangemouth would have closed three years ago.”

Ratcliffe says Ineos will keep the plant in business for 20 years.

Fracking is a controversial gas extraction technique that involves the injection of water and chemicals at high pressure into shale rocks, forcing gas trapped inside to the surface. Opponents of the process say it causes water pollution and can cause earthquakes.

Environmentalists have pointed to the “environmental destruction” and “human suffering” that has been caused by fracking in the US.

“It is completely unacceptable to attempt to prop up Ineos’s petrochemicals plants on the back of human suffering and environmental destruction across the Atlantic,” Mary Church of Friends of the Earth Scotland told the Times.

“The fact that Scottish public money is tied up in this project is disgraceful. Setting aside the devastating local impacts of fracking, the climate consequences of extracting yet more fossil fuels are utterly disastrous.

“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.”

“While the UK government is supportive, the shipment comes just a day after Labour pledged it would ban fracking and focus instead on developing “the clean technologies of the future.”

The shipment is thought to be the first fracked gas available for use in the UK. Drilling for shale gas is only at the exploratory phase in Britain.

Scotland has imposed a moratorium on fracking and is due to make a decision on an outright ban after a study into its impact is carried out.

No Scottish government ministers attended the arrival of the first shipment.

Supporters of fracking in the UK believe it would help bring down ballooning energy prices, offer greater energy security and provide a low carbon bridge while Britain weans itself off energy produced from coal.