A £450 million plan by Ineos to develop the Grangemouth petrochemical complex for fracking is facing fierce opposition from hundreds of residents and campaigners.
The Swiss-based company is applying for permission for new security facilities and pipelines that require the permanent closure of a main road. The developments are part of a “masterplan” for the Grangemouth site founded on importing fracked shale gas from the US and opening up fracking in the UK.
But more than 400 people have lodged objections, and more than 700 signed a local petition against the plan, which is due to be discussed at a special hearing in Grangemouth this evening arranged by Falkirk Council.
The Ineos masterplan envisages a “fully integrated chemical science cluster” at Grangemouth by 2020. New sources of ethane from fracked shale gas “will transform the site’s competitiveness and manufacturing potential,” it says.
Ineos started importing ethane by boat from fracking fields in Pennsylvania last year. The gas is extracted from US shale by fracturing underground rock.
The company also has UK government licences to frack a large part of central Scotland, and areas in northern England. But north of the border, its ambitions have been stymied by a Scottish Government moratorium on fracking since January 2015.
In January this year Scottish ministers launched a major public consultation into fracking, which is due to end in May. They have promised to take a final decision on the future of the technology in Scotland before the end of the year.
Ineos’s masterplan submitted to Falkirk Council describes the availability of fracked ethane as a “game-changer” key to Grangemouth’s competitive advantage. “The successful future utilisation of UK reserves of unconventional gas, potentially including shale gas, offers new opportunities for growth in primary petrochemical specialities and related sectors,” it says.
Concerned Communities of Falkirk, which opposes fracking, criticised the Scottish Government for working with Ineos to develop Grangemouth. “The need for shale will grow if plans go ahead,” said the group’s Carol Anderson.
“There may be talk of jobs and wealth but these might never reach local people – and the human, health, environmental and economic costs of shale-reliant plans could be huge. Are Grangemouth and Forth Valley to be a sacrifice zone?”
Anderson was worried that there was backing for fracking in some Scottish government circles. “No social licence has been given,” she argued. “But has fracking been agreed already behind closed doors?”
Friends of the Earth Scotland labelled the Ineos masterplan as “backward looking” because it ignored the global disruption being caused by climate pollution. “This expansion plan is closely linked to Ineos’s unpopular fracking agenda here in the UK,” said the environmental group’s Mary Church.
“It will be more like game-over than game-changer for the plant if Scotland’s top carbon polluter continues to pursue a future for the site based on more and more fossil fuel consumption.”
Ineos has applied for permission to build a new security centre, two gatehouses, fencing and five pipe bridges. If successful, it would then apply to permanently close to the public a section of the A904 between Grangemouth and Bo’ness that runs through the petrochemical site.
Falkirk Council says it has received 421 objections, plus a petition against the development with 744 signatories. There have been only 12 representations in favour of the Ineos plan.
One objection was from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, which warned that the road closure would delay fire engines reaching emergencies. Grangemouth Community Council said that the closure would cause major difficulties for local people.
“Compromise is needed and to be frank some goodwill from the applicant,” said the council’s vice-convener, Walter Inglis. “Their presence within the community is dominant in so many ways and they should not take that as licence to do what they want beyond their operational boundary.”
According to Bo’ness Community Council, the road closure would create a traffic nightmare. “We do not want Bo’ness to be isolated from Grangemouth,” said convener, Madelene Hunt. “We wish Ineos was a more considerate neighbour.”
Ineos pointed out that its £450 million investment had enabled the Grangemouth site to operate fully for the first time in nine years. “It is once again profitable, protecting the direct jobs of 1,300 people and 7,000 more in the wider community,” said the company’s communications manager, David East.
“Grangemouth continues to supply 80 per cent of Scotland’s fuel and four per cent of Scotland’s GDP. As manufacturing continues to decline across the country, this investment stands out as a rare Scottish success story that offers new opportunities and growth.”
The Scottish Government said it would “not be appropriate” to comment on a planning application awaiting a decision by Falkirk Council. “A full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas, including fracking, is underway,” said a spokesman. “No decision on the future of unconventional oil and gas will be made before the public have had an opportunity to feed in their views, and the Scottish Parliament has had the opportunity to vote on the matter.”
Ineos masterplan for Grangemouth
A version of this story was published in the Sunday Herald on 12 March 2017.