In the 20th Century it was the extraction of plentiful supplies of oil and gas from the North Sea that promised a bright future for UK industry and the economy.
Now at the dawn of the 21st Century it is the reportedly- plentiful pockets of shale gas, used to produce ethane, beneath the ground which hold the answer to the big industrial energy question over the coming decades.
And Ineos is investing $1 billion, or £640 million, in shale gas exploration and production in a bid to become the UK’s biggest single force in the relatively new shale gas business.
The firm, currently constructing a £300 million ethane storage facility locally, is already planning to import shale gas from the USA to use as a cheap feedstock for its Grangemouth petrochemical plant and is now looking to utilise potential sources closer to home as well.
Earlier this year the company started buying up rights to allow it to explore hundreds of square miles around its Grangemouth site.
It has now applied for further Petroleum Exploration and Development licences (PEDLs) from the UK Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Ineos boss Jim Ratcliffe said: “I want Ineos to be the biggest player in the UK shale gas industry. I believe shale gas could revolutionise UK manufacturing and I know Ineos has the resources to make it happen, the skills to extract the gas safely and the vision to realise everyone must share in the rewards.”
Ineos is so confident this new investment will pay off it’s guaranteeing to give local communities six per cent of any revenues generated - a move which could equate to £375 million.
The majority of the Ineos bids are in Scotland and the North of England in areas and communities which have, or had, mining or industry on their doorsteps.
Gary Haywood, Ineos CEO, said: “While the awarding of the licences is a matter for the DECC, we believe our knowledge and experience in running complex petrochemical facilities, coupled with the world class sub surface expertise we have recently added to our team, means Ineos will be seen as a very safe pair of hands.”
While British Geological Survey has estimated there are only “modest” shale gas and oil resources in the area, there are those who believe Ineos, and Mr Ratcliffe in particular, would not be investing so much in something without there being a good chance of gaining a sizeable return.
East Falkirk MP Michael Connarty said: “If Jim Ratcliffe is putting a billion dollars into this then it’s obvious he believes there is a major supply there to be had.
“He is obviously looking for cheap shale gas wherever he can get it and has already done a deal to import it from America.
“If he can find a supply in Scotland, that will be a long term investment for him. Although I believe the billion dollars he is spending will only cover the initial survey and exploration work, it shows he is a serious player in this fast emerging industry.
“If he can get any ethane out of the ground in Scotland, he will do it. This is going to happen. It’s unlikely anyone is going to prevent Ineos and others exploring for shale gas.”
NOT EVERYONE SOLD ON SHALE
The controversial process of fracking is one of the methods used to force out reserves of shale gas.
This fact alone, coupled with Ineos announcing it is committing $1 billion to exploring for shale in the UK, is enough to bring the petrochemical giant firmly into the sights of local protesters who previously had all their focus on firms like Dart Energy.
Concerned Communities of Falkirk (CCoF) is just one of many groups around the world which believes the practice of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is dangerous and harmful to the environment.
When Ineos stated it would offer up a percentage of shale gas revenues to local communities affected, protesters called the move a “transparent attempt at bribery”.
Mark Williams, of CCoF, said: “There is a growing determination within Scottish communities to resist unconventional gas developments while potentially serious risks to public health and the local environment remain unassessed.”
Last week it was reported CCoF had formed an alliance with a number of similar groups throughout the country and had officially urged the Scottish Government to call a halt to all unconventional gas extraction development until further information is available on the potential effects of the process.
CCoF member Alison Doyle said: “The formation of a broad alliance shows the strength of feeling against all forms of unconventional gas from people across Scotland.”
A peaceful demonstration organised by No Fracking Falkirk is scheduled to take place outside Ineos headquarters on Sunday, December 7.
A group spokesman said: “Fracking is a disaster for the land and all who live in her. We must make a huge stand and make it clear to these profiteers we will not stand for it. This will be a static and peaceful protest.”
In September Ineos announced plans to give six per cent of its shale gas revenues to the local community with four per cent going to home and land owners situated above the wells and two per cent going to the wider community
The firm then enlisted You Gov to ask a representative sample of the population if they were opposed to the extraction of shale gas in the UK
Of the 1008 people asked in Scotland, 46 per cent opposed it and 36 per cent supported it
Of the 1094 people asked in north west England, 37 per cent opposed it and 40 per cent supported it
Of the 6216 people asked in the UK, 34 per cent opposed it and 40 percent supported it