The UK’s first shipment of shale gas produced by hydraulic fracturing in the US has arrived off the coast of Scotland and, according to the latest reports, is currently anchored awaiting calmer conditions to dock.
The tanker is set to deliver over 27,000 cubic metres of ethane gas extracted by fracking in Pennsylvania to the Grangemouth oil refinery on the Firth of Forth. The plant is run by multinational chemicals company Ineos, who are receiving this shipment of gas as part of a $2 billion investment program. Almost half a billion dollars has been spent so far by Ineos revamping their sites, including building a specially designed terminal that will receive the tanker and its load, converting the ethane gas into ethylene which will then be used in plastics manufacturing. Some of the gas received will be sent to another of Ineos’ sites in Hull.
Ineos Chief Executive Jim Ratcliffe said that the receipt of this shale gas marks an important step for the British manufacturing industry, saying: “Shale gas can help stop the decline of British manufacturing and today is a first step in that direction.”
He did concede that it is not without its risks, and that there may be occasional environmental risks ahead. He argued that the chemical industry, as well as most industries generally, are often subject to some risks, and that the expanding the use of shale gas would not necessarily change this for the worse, given already exist risk management systems.
Speaking to BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland program, he said: “There isn’t a product that you buy or consume that doesn’t require a chemical of one form or another. And the chemical industry is extremely good at managing environmental issues and safety issues, but it is not perfect. It is like a puncture in your car – occasionally you get a puncture and occasionally we have an accident in chemicals.”
He explained that importing shale gas from the US produced through fracking is essential for British industry, given rising costs of sourcing domestically produced ethane, and is responsible for the creation and maintenance of around 10,000 jobs.
The news of the delivery to Ineos comes shortly after the Labour party issued an announcement pledging that if they are to get into power at the next general election, they will fight for an all out ban on fracking in the UK.
The Shadow energy secretary, Barry Gardiner, said earlier this week: “Today I am announcing that the next Labour government will ban fracking in the UK.
“Fracking locks us into an energy infrastructure that is based on fossil fuels long after our country needs to have moved to renewables. The next Labour government will back the clean technologies of the future.”
While Labour’s proposal has been met with open arms by environmental groups, others have questioned the viability of an all out ban without a reasonable alternative provided.
The national officer for the GMB trade union group, Stuart Fregan, said that the plans were ultimately misguided, given what he sees as pressing concerns related to domestic energy supply.
He said: “It is a nonsense that any political party serious on forming a government after the next planned general election in 2020 could promote a ban on shale gas extraction outright. With our national dependency on gas consumption set to increase in the immediate future, ruling out the possible use of a natural fuel that exists beneath our feet in parts of the UK is ridiculous.”