A row has broken out after the Scottish Government snubbed a high-profile event to safeguard the future of the country’s biggest industrial site and thousands of jobs, re-igniting the debate around fracking.
Ineos chairman and chief executive Jim Ratcliffe said yesterday he was “disappointed” that no minister attended the “Grangemouth Renaissance” event which marked the arrival of the first ships from the US carrying shale gas.
It is expected the gas will ensure the future of the firm’s petrochemical plant.
Mr Ratcliffe also revealed that the Scottish Government has blocked Ineos proposals to carry out exploratory work on the extent of shale resources in Scotland to assess the potential.
Political opponents branded the snub “infantile”, but ministers insisted diary commitments prevented them from being at the event, where Scottish Secretary David Mundell made a speech. Economy secretary Keith Brown was at a meeting of the Scottish cabinet, while energy minister Paul Wheelhouse was at the Longannet task force.
However, Nicola Sturgeon is today scheduled to attend an event mark the reopening of the Dalzell steel works in Motherwell after it also survived the threat of closure.
Mr Ratcliffe stepped up calls for political leaders to rethink their hostility to fracking for shale gas in Scotland, which he said could revive the country’s ailing economy and mark a rebirth of manufacturing.
Ms Sturgeon has imposed a moratorium on fracking in Scotland and said she was “highly sceptical” about it ever being allowed. Labour, the Greens and Liberal Democrats are all opposed.
The event at Grangemouth marked the arrival of the Ineos Insight, the first of a new Dragon class of ships to carry shale gas across the Atlantic to Ineos plants in Europe.
Mr Ratcliffe called for Ms Sturgeon to visit the US to witness the impact which the “shale revolution” is having on some areas and insisted Scotland could reap the same rewards, adding a warning that the North Sea will be effectively “finished” in ten years.
“It is bit disappointing I suppose,” Mr Ratcliffe said of the Scottish Government’s absence. “It’s important to Scotland because about 10,000 jobs have been saved because of shale gas.
“Politically it is a sensitive subject. My personal view is that there is a vocal minority [opposed]. In every poll that we do, and we’ve done many, all anonymous polls, and they show two-thirds in favour and one-third against.
“And certainly when you get to industrial areas which are not in the best of shape, the numbers are even greater.”
He added: “I’m hoping that common sense will prevail. All you have to do is look at what’s happening in the United States. They’ve been doing it for a long time and it’s had an immense impact on their economy.
“The UK is clearly sat on enormous potential for shale [gas], the same as the US. It’s just common sense really. There’s no reason why you can’t see the same transformations taking place in the industrial heartlands of the UK as we’ve seen in parts of Pittsburgh, which was a decaying steel town which today is vibrant and full of investment.”
A report by the British Geological Survey three years ago found Scotland’s Midland Valley, which runs across the centre of the country, has shale gas resources of 80 trillion cubic feet, enough to meet the country’s needs for the next half-century. There are also about six billion barrels of shale oil estimated to lie in the field.
Mr Ratcliffe said yesterday that Ineos wanted to carry out exploratory work to assess the potential. However, the Scottish Government ruled this out as part of its moratorium.
He said: “They [ministers] haven’t gone down that road because of political sensitivities which is a great shame, because if you look at the Scottish economy it’s running a very substantial deficit … shale gas was one of those opportunities to reverse that deficit.”
The Scottish Government has commissioned a series of independent research projects into unconventional oil and gas extraction to examine potential environmental and economic impacts of fracking and is launching a consultation over the winter before making a decision.
A spokesman for Scottish minsters said last night: “The moratorium will remain in place throughout this process and the Scottish Government will use the results of the consultation to inform its decision on the way forward.
“Grangemouth is a site of significant importance for the Scottish economy and we will go on working to support its long term future, as we have in the past.”
But Conservative finance spokesman Murdo Fraser accused ministers of an “infantile” approach to fracking.
He said: “There is a startlingly blatant hypocrisy in the Scottish Government welcoming the arrival of shale, yet ruling Scotland out of ever generating its own … it’s insulting that no Scottish Government minister could be bothered turning up to this arrival.”
Union leaders also welcomed the development.
Gary Smith, GMB regional secretary, said: “Hundreds of millions have been invested in Grangemouth. Tens of thousands of jobs depend on the site – calling for imported fracked gas to be stopped is campaigning for mass unemployment in central Scotland.”
But the Scottish Greens’ climate change and energy spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “If we want to guarantee a future for Grangemouth we should be investing in its conversion to synthetic fuels from renewable resources.
“The facts are clear. We need to start leaving fossil fuels in the ground, not go drilling for more.”