Scot-Govt. briefing note for secret meeting between Sturgeon and INEOS boss confirms that onshore shale gas exploration CAN be safely carried out

Sturgeon briefing note on shale gas for meeting with Jim Ratcliffe, INEOS 19 Oct 2016
Sturgeon briefing note on shale gas for meeting with Jim Ratcliffe, INEOS 19 Oct 2016

An official Scot-Government briefing note on onshore oil and gas exploration – presently banned under a ‘temporary moratorium’ – has confirmed that hydraulic fracturing techniques could be safely used to recover shale gas in Scotland.

The briefing note was produced for Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon by  Scot-Govt. civil servants for a confidential meeting she held in private with Jim Ratcliffe, Executive Chairman of INEOS.

The reason for this meeting – held in London on 19 October 2016 – has not been officially explained by Sturgeon.

This meeting was held six months after Sturgeon and her fellow Energy and Industry ministers snubbed INEOS by refusing to welcome its first ‘Titanic-size’ super-shale tanker ship arriving at Grangemouth from the USA.

But the vexed issue of onshore fracking for shale gas is almost certain to have been high on the agenda.

INEOS – which owns and operates the Granemouth petrochemical refinery – also owns UK government petroleum exploration licences to drill for onshore oil and gas around Grangemouth and across the Central Belt.

But – driven by a substantial ‘anti-shale’ lobby within her own party, Sturgeon’s government imposed a temporary moratorium on actual drilling for shale in Jan 2015. Sturgeon herself ramped up the anti-shale rhetoric in her manifesto for the Holyrood general election in 2016 when she said she was ‘deeply sceptical’ about the nascent industry’s ability to operate safely

INEOS Insight passes under the Forth rail bridge with its first cargo of US shale to arrive in the UK.
INEOS Insight passes under the Forth rail bridge with its first cargo of US shale to arrive in the UK.

A scientific evidence-led review of the technology later concluded that onshore shale gas exploration could be carried out safely albeit with modifications to the regulatory regime.

These findings were expressly included in the briefing note for Sturgeon in her meeting with INEOS – along with the comment that (shale) gas could have ‘significant benefits’ for the Scottish economy.

Shortly after that meeting, the Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse announced that the Scot-Govt would put the fact-based evidence of the scientific review out to ‘public consultation’.

In a controversial move, as well as asking questions for the public to respond to, this consultation included ‘answers’ from the Scot-Govt. Wheelhouse has pledged to hold another debate in Holyrood on the ‘public consultation’ and the scientific review when parliament resumes in the autumn.

The Scot-Govt moratorium on shale gas exploration has almost certainly scuppered any prospect of Jim Ratcliffe locating his planned £100 million new ‘Land Rover’ 4×4 car manufacturing plant – and with it hundreds of skilled new jobs – in Scotland.

An INEOS spokesman commented: “Given Ineos is the UK’s largest petrochemicals company, that has invested over £1 billion into Scotland, and Petroineos is Scotland’s only crude oil refinery, it is no surprise the company has met with government officials to highlight the importance of UK manufacturing, as half of the country’s manufacturing capacity has collapsed in less than a generation.”

See also:

EXCLUSIVE: Scotland to miss out on hundreds of high-value new manufacturing jobs in fracking row as Grangemouth energy chief invests £100m to build the new 4×4 ‘Land Rover’×4-land-rover/

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