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US shale gas shipment arrives amid storm over fracking

Published 27/09/2016

A tanker carrying shale gas from the US is to dock at Grangemouth
A tanker carrying shale gas from the US is to dock at Grangemouth

The first shipment of controversial shale gas has arrived in the UK as campaigners step up calls for a ban on fracking.

A tanker carrying 27,500 m3 of ethane from US shale fields sailed down the Forth in central Scotland to the Ineos refinery in Grangemouth, but it was unable to dock straight away due to high winds.

Jim Ratcliffe, the founder and chairman of the petrochemicals giant, said unconventional gas extraction could transform communities that have been blighted by a collapse in manufacturing, as has happened in the United States.

Ineos says the shale gas will replace dwindling North Sea supplies and secure essential raw material for Grangemouth, supporting some 10,000 jobs there.

But Friends of the Earth Scotland has spoken out about "environmental damage" caused in the US, where fracking is now a well established industry.

Head of campaigns Mary Church said: ''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.

"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."

The Scottish Government currently has a moratorium on fracking in place while ministers consider the evidence.

Ms Church said: "We urge the Scottish Government to act swiftly to ban fracking and start planning seriously for a fair transition to a low-carbon economy across all sectors. Fracking should not happen here in Scotland, or anywhere.''

Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Greens' climate and energy spokesman, said: "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."

Speaking about the shipment, Mr Ratcliffe said: "One of my great concerns about the UK economy is the collapse in manufacturing.

"I think saving Grangemouth is a brick in the wall to arresting that decline, but maybe shale gas also has the ability to reverse that decline. Shale gas has absolutely transformed the United States. There's immense levels of investment there.

"There's clearly a lot of shale in the UK as there is in the United States, and there's absolutely no reason why it can't do the same things to the UK manufacturing industry as it has done in America."

On the Scottish Government he said: "We have no objection to people evaluating safety and environmental issues, I think that's all very fair and proper.

"But it probably would have been quite sensible to let us at least do the exploration phase in Scotland. We know that there are shales in Scotland but in order to really understand whether those shales will produce economic quantities in a produceable manner, our message was to let us do the exploration to absolutely identify whether there is produceable, sensible quantities of shale gas in Scotland whilst they do their evaluation in parallel with that."

On safety, he said earlier: "The United States is the most highly regulated society in the world, it has the largest chemical industry in the world, which is highly regulated.

"They don't allow you to do things that are unsafe or environmentally unfriendly in the United States and I don't think shale is any different. Predominantly it's been seen to be an extremely safe and well managed industry."

The company said the shipment, aboard carrier Ineos Insight, was the culmination of a two billion US dollars (£1.6 billion) investment resulting in eight tankers forming a ''virtual pipeline'' between the US and the UK and Norway.

As a result of shale gas, he said that "for the next 20 years, now Grangemouth's future is totally assured, those 10,000 jobs will be in very safe hands".

While the UK Labour Party has followed Scottish Labour in backing a ban on fracking in the UK, Mr Ratcliffe argued: " A lot of the heartland voters for the Labour Party are in those very industrial areas that are rather like Pittsburgh 10 years ago, they're not in great shape, shale has got this ability to transform these industrial communities.

"If you look at the UK, manufacturing has collapsed in the last 20 years, and there is an awful lot of people in the industrial heartland who depend on manufacturing jobs.

"There is going to be no manufacturing left if it continues in that direction and shale has got the possibility of transforming it, maybe even reversing it, as it has in America."

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