The first shipment of US shale gas will arrive in Scotland on Tuesday amid fierce debate about the future of fracking in the UK.
A tanker carrying 27,500 m3 of ethane from US shale fields is due to dock at Grangemouth, the refinery and petrochemicals plant owned by global chemical giant Ineos.
The company said the shipment aboard carrier Ineos Insight was the culmination of a 2 billion US dollars (£1.6 billion) investment resulting in eight tankers forming a “virtual pipeline” between the US and the UK and Norway.
Ineos says the shale gas will replace dwindling North Sea supplies and secure essential raw material for Grangemouth, supporting thousands of manufacturing jobs.
Jim Ratcliffe, Ineos founder and chairman, said: “This is a hugely important day for Ineos and the UK. Shale gas can help stop the decline of British manufacturing.”
With the UK Labour Party following Scottish Labour in backing a ban on fracking for indigenous shale resources if it wins the next general election, the technique remains controversial on both sides of the border.
Despite pleas from Ineos to embrace shale gas drilling, a Scottish Government moratorium on the practice remains in place, in contrast to the pro-fracking stance of the UK Government.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth has stepped up their opposition to fracking ahead of the shipment’s arrival, highlighting the experience of residents of Pennsylvania, where almost 10,000 gas wells have been drilled.
Ron Gulla, a former resident of Hickory, Pennsylvania, who signed a lease for fracking on his land in 2002, said: “I have witnessed first-hand how the fracking industry has brought permanent damage across the Pennsylvania region, polluted our air, land and water and is destroying our livelihoods.
“Those living near drilling, infrastructure or waste sites have suffered water contamination, spills, wastewater dumping and gas leaks, as well as multiple health impacts.
“My property and life have been destroyed by this industry. I don’t know how the harm the fracking industry has caused can ever be corrected or how these injured places will get back their clean water. We must never lose sight of the fact that water is more important than gas.”
Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, 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. 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.
“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.”