Community opposition to fracking has softened because of concerns linked to Brexit, according to an Ineos director.
Tom Pickering, operations director at the firm’s shale unit, said unease about the UK’s energy security once Britain leaves the 27-nation bloc was casting the nascent industry in a more positive light.
While opposition and anxiety remain, he said the change in perspective following the Brexit vote had tightened the focus on the economic benefits of fracking.
Mr Pickering has been holding public meetings to allay fears about the industry after the company bought shale gas licences across swathes of Yorkshire, the East Midlands and Cheshire.
Ineos imports shale gas from the US for treatment at its Grangemouth plant, Scotland’s largest industrial site. But the firm has said it would make more economic sense for Scotland to be extracting gas locally from the Central Belt. Ineos has bought the rights to explore for shale oil and gas for around 280 square miles in Scotland. But the Scottish Government has imposed a moratorium on fracking and energy minister Paul Wheelhouse has said he is “deeply sceptical” of proposals to exploit shale gas reserves beneath the ground.
Mr Pickering said: “I have seen a shift in the tone after the Brexit vote. People are saying that ‘you just need to be getting on with this. We want you to do it properly, but this stuff matters now’.
“People understand that when you present the figure to them that over 50 per cent of our gas is being imported that is a cheque we are writing out every day to another nation.
“I find that is a theme in the conversation.”
Ineos Shale – an arm of the $40 billion (£31 billion) petrochemical company Ineos – has launched a vast study to discover if Britain can establish a viable shale gas industry.
A 3D seismic survey mapping the geology of potential sites is expected to be finished this year.
Mr Pickering said the UK has the opportunity to create a level of excellence in onshore fracking that will lead to a demand for British skills across the globe – in the same way the North Sea oil boom made Aberdeen a centre for expertise.
It comes after Ineos Shale secured a High Court injunction last month prohibiting unlawful activities such as trespass or obstruction at its shale gas sites. A number of protest groups have been launched to fight fracking, while Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth also campaign against the technique.
Mr Pickering said the move was not an attempt to quash peaceful protest, but was taken to ensure the safety of staff and protesters.