Leader comment: Virtual pipeline is a lifeline

Ineos chief executive Jim Ratcliffe meets with Scottish Secretary David Mundell at Grangemouth as the first ship carrying shale gas from the US arrives in the Firth of Forth. Picture: Getty Images
Ineos chief executive Jim Ratcliffe meets with Scottish Secretary David Mundell at Grangemouth as the first ship carrying shale gas from the US arrives in the Firth of Forth. Picture: Getty Images
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The current moratorium on fracking in Scotland is expected to continue into next year, as the Scottish Government seeks a conclusion to its “evidence-led approach” to the issue. It is sensible that the costs and benefits of fracking should be weighed up before a decision is made on its suitability, although if bets were to be taken at this stage on whether the controversial process gets the go-ahead or is banned, it would be a bold gamble indeed to put any kind of substantial investment into backing fracking.

But ironically, that is exactly what petrochemicals plant owner Ineos has done by putting £1.6 billion into a fleet of eight tankers which forms a “virtual pipeline” across the Atlantic. With or without fracking taking place in Scotland, a supply of shale gas from the United States will keep the threatened Grangemouth facility open, which should safeguard 1,300 jobs at the plant.

Whether we are for or against the process of fracking, it is clear that the shale gas industry is important to the Scottish economy. However, there are two issues here which need to be resolved. The first is that calls have been made for the Scottish Government to withdraw support for the shipping of shale gas, because it causes environmental destruction elsewhere. As well as pre-empting current deliberations, this also makes a judgment on a reasonable decision that the United States has made on its own terms. This is not our business, frankly.

The second concern is the Scottish Government’s decision to stay away from Grangemouth yesterday, as the first shipment of shale gas was welcomes. This was a churlish gesture, and should not have happened. Ineos kept Grangemouth open, when the Scottish Government could not.