The question on everybody’s lips when INEOS was awarded government licenses to conduct shale gas exploration (fracking) in central Scotland was ‘‘will it happen in my community?’’
The petrochemical giant announced two weeks ago that it was planning to invest £640 million in shale gas exploration, leading to speculation over whether shale could once again become a cornerstone of the economy in West Lothian and Forth Valley.
At present, INEOS has majority stakes in two Petroleum Exploration and Development Licenses (PEDLs), one of which encompasses Bo’ness.
The company, which can already lay claim to more than 120,000 hectares of land, has applied to the British Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change to bid for even more PEDLs.
INEOS said that the location of the wells where fracking will take place has not yet been decided, however, the vast majority of its PEDL bids are where the local populations have either a mining or industrial heritage.
Having operated in the US since 1949, fracking has been touted as the solution to declining North Sea oil, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change claiming that shale gas and oil could provide the UK with greater energy security, growth, jobs and tax revenue.
Jim Ratcliffe, INEOS founder and chairman, said: “I think shale gas could revolutionise UK manufacturing as it has done in the USA. INEOS has the resources to make it happen, the skills to extract the gas safely and the vision to realise that everyone must share in the rewards.”
However, when it comes to shale gas, not everybody is convinced. Environmental group Friends of the Earth Scotland has expressed concern about risks such as groundwater and soil contamination, air pollution and damage to public health.
INEOS insists that fracking can be done safely, a sentiment echoed by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The public, however, remain unconvinced, with a YouGov poll from early October showing that 46 per cent of the Scottish population was opposed to fracking, compared with 36 per cent in favour.
Bo’ness Community Council is part of Concerned Communities of Falkirk, a local anti-fracking organisation. The group has planned a peaceful protest outside INEOS Grangemouth later today (Sunday, December 7).
In an attempt to sweeten the deal, INEOS plans to give six per cent of any revenues from shale gas to local communities, with four per cent going to home owners above drilling wells – a deal which the company says is worth £375 million.
However, community opposition might not be the only headache for INEOS.
Holyrood is much more wary of shale gas exploration than Westminster with tougher planning regulations in place surrounding the construction of drilling wells.
Last week, the Smith Commission published its proposals on new powers to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament – one of which was the power to grant PEDLs.
A Scottish Government spokesman said the process was in its “early days” but did not rule out the possibility of PEDLs being retracted.