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Could sustainable gas as opposed to fracking give Grangemouth a long-term future?

According to recent reports in the British media, the chemical company Ineos is at the point of investing £640 million in the controversial shale gas extraction process known as fracking. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30125028 and http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/20/ineos-founder-wants-shale-gas-revolution-in-uk.

The company is hoping to use the gas extracted by this process as a raw material or feedstock for its chemical processing plant at Grangemouth in Scotland. At present Ineos is shipping shale gas by tanker from the United States to Grangemouth, but in future the company hopes to use gas extracted locally in Stirlingshire for feedstock at the processing plant. Taking into account dangers to the environment posed by fracking, as well as questions over the long term economic viability of this process, why has Ineos not considered the sustainable alternatives?

Some important questions were missed by the BBC correspondent John Moylan when he interviewed the Chairman of Ineos, Jim Ratcliffe. These questions could have been as follows:

1. How will the £640 million invested in fracking contribute to the EU’s domestic 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target? The public, politicians, scientists, and those involved in new green industies and technologies: recognise the danger posed by global warming and climate change to human existance on earth. By failing to find a sustainable alternative to fossil fuel feedstock for many of the plastic products that the modern world requires, an opportunity will be missed to fight climate change. People living in the areas where fracking will take place are correct to be concerned, that their drinking water could become contaminated or seismic activity could cause cracks in the walls of their homes. In addition to these local risks, greenhouse gas emmissions are a wider problem for our planet’s climate. Fracking will increase rather than decrease the amount of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – which is released into the atmosphere.

2. How long will it take for any future gas extraction operation to move from the exploration stage to the production stage? If the examples of Preese Hall near Blackpool in Lancashire or Balcombe in West Sussex are anything to go by, the exploration stage can go on for a long time, cause damage to the environment, upset local communities, but not necessarily find enough gas that can be exploited commercially.

3. Is Ineos aware of the research being done by Sunfire GmbH to produce sythetic fuel from sustainable sources? Sunfire is one of several companies in Germany working on projects involving “power-to-gas” and “power-to-liquids”. See two previous articles by Jolyon Gumbrell on this blog. Renewable energy from solar and wind power generates electricity used in an electrolysis process to convert water and carbon dioxide into methane gas. This gas in turn could be used for the feedstock for making the same products that are produced at Grangemouth.

It is a pity that Ineos could not commission one of these German companies to build a power-to-gas plant in Scotland, which would provide the feedstock for the Grangemouth plant? An investment of £640 million in the new sustainable synthetic fuel industry might produce a quicker return for Ineos, than sinking the same amount of money into fracking.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2014



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