Ineos chief reacts after SNP ministers snub landmark shale gas arrival
Herald Scotland, by Daniel Sanderson
Billionaire Ineos chief Jim Ratcliffe has challenged Nicola Sturgeon to cross the Atlantic to witness the benefits of fracking as the first ever shipment of US shale gas arrived in Scotland.
The chairman and founder of the chemicals giant, which owns the Grangemouth industrial complex, also suggested the SNP is pandering to a "vocal minority" by refusing to back his plans to begin fracking in the central belt and expressed "disappointment" at SNP ministers for snubbing his celebration of a project he said would secure 10,000 jobs.
The first of what will become weekly shipments of shale gas, extracted in Pennsylvania, arrived in the Firth of Forth yesterday and the industrialist insisted fracking had prevented Grangemouth, which is vital to the Scottish economy and infrastructure, from closing down.
But his plans to establish a domestic unconventional onshore oil and gas industry in Scotland has been thwarted by a Scottish Government moratorium, with the SNP taking an increasingly hard line against fracking following pressure from opposition parties and its own grassroots.
Mr Ratcliffe said he remained hopeful that "common sense" would prevail following a Scottish Government programme of evidence gathering and a public consultation, but admitted he was puzzled by resistance to a method that is widely used in America and he said could rejuvenate struggling post-industrial areas.
He said: "The US has been doing it for years and years and years and it’s been hugely successful. I think the people here who are concerned, and ultimately take those decisions in Scotland, maybe they should go across to the US. Walk around and talk to the people there, and look at some of the facilities, look at some of the industrial towns which have been revitalised by shale."
The Scottish Government faced criticism refusing to send a minister to represent it at the event to mark the new shale gas supply line, despite its agency Scottish Enterprise handing Ineos £9 million to help it with its plans. David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, made a speech at the event.
The Government has blamed "previous diary commitments" but it is understood several SNP ministers were invited around three weeks ago. The Scottish Tories said the failure of ministers to turn up following Ineos’s £1.5 billion investment was "infantile" and "insulting".
Mr Ratcliffe said: "It is a disappointment, 10,000 jobs is hugely important to Scotland and 10,000 jobs have been saved because of shale gas. There is an irony in that, I suppose." Another senior Ineos source went further, saying SNP ministers’ failure to attend was "absolutely shocking".
Asked why his message about the economic benefits of fracking weren’t getting through to the Government, Mr Ratcliffe said "I don’t know". He then added: "I think it’s all about the vocal minority, and there’s no science behind the arguments the vocal minority are making."
A small group of anti-fracking protestors arrived at Ineos’s Grangemouth headquarters to protest at the arrival of shale gas and the company’s drive to begin fracking, a process that sees water, sand and chemicals pumped underground to fracture shale rock and release gas, in Scotland. Critics say the process extends reliance on fossil fuels, risks earthquakes, public health and major pollution.
Mr Ratcliffe also came under fire after he compared environmental mishaps to a "puncture in your car". One of Ineos’s gas suppliers, Range Resources, was slapped with a £3m fine in the US for environmental breaches earlier this week.
Mary Church, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s head of campaigns, said: "It is completely unacceptable to attempt to prop up the Grangemouth plant on the back of environmental destruction across the Atlantic. You can fix a puncture in a matter of minutes. It may never be possible to fix groundwater contamination from leaking fracking wells."
Ms Sturgeon, speaking in London, described both Ineos and the Grangemouth facility as "very important" to Scotland but said there were "very real concerns" about fracking. She added: "It’s incumbent upon governments to take a careful and cautious evidence-based approach and that’s exactly what we will do."