BENEATH the chimneys that hulk over the Grangemouth skyline, journalists were this week treated to a slick PR operation. The multinational Ineos laid on delicious sandwiches and pastries at its gigantic petrochemical plant as it launched an important part of its strategy to bring fracking to Central Scotland.
Between mouthfuls, representatives of the fourth estate were told of Ineos’s plans to try and convince local communities that the controversial drilling technique to release the natural gas trapped a couple of kilometres underground would be both safe and lucrative.
With smooth and soothing words, the company’s executives made reassuring noises. Fracking was not some kind of “Frankenstein” operation. Rather, it was a process that would transform the Scottish economy.
Equally importantly, they also made a convincing case for sinking shale gas wells in the Forth Valley to keep the lights on. Against a backdrop of declining North Sea oil, the dependence of renewables on the weather and the environmental concerns voiced about coal-based electricity generation, Ineos presented a powerful argument.
Also at its heart was the company’s point that creating an indigenous fracking industry would safeguard the Grangemouth plant for the foreseeable future.
Of course, things are not quite as simple as all that. Fracking is an issue that divides opinion. A totally different view came from Friends of the Earth, which said that fracking was a “dangerous, dirty industry” adding that “all the money in the world can’t hide that”.
The filthy lucre referred to by Friends of the Earth was the £2.5 billion that Ineos says it will contribute to communities through its plan to share 6 per cent of revenues with the locals.
For some the thought of such sums would go down even better than Ineos’s sandwiches. But for others the thought of the disruption to their communities and their concerns about safety make them deeply concerned about the impact of fracking.
This is something of which the SNP administration is keenly aware. And faced with a difficult issue has placed a moratorium on fracking until the all the evidence is considered. This pushes the tough decision on whether to give Ineos the go-ahead until after the May election.
It may be politically convenient for the big fracking decision to be delayed, but time waits for no-one. After May this issue will only become more pressing. Ineos understands and that is why the multinational is laying the groundwork for its sophisticated charm offensive.
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