Shale gas ship arrives at Grangemouth after weather delay

Shale ship

The first shipment of US shale gas to be delivered to the UK has arrived at the Grangemouth petrochemicals plant.

The tanker, carrying 27,500m3 of ethane from US shale fields, was due to arrive at the base, which owned by Ineos, on Tuesday.

However it was unable to dock because of strong winds. A second attempt on Wednesday afternoon was successful.

Its arrival came amid a fierce debate about the future of fracking in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Ineos said the gas would secure the future of the plant's 1,300 workforce.

Many politicians and environmental groups have criticised the shipment.

They claim the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals into the rock at high pressure damages the environment.

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Media captionTanker carrying shale gas arrives in Scotland

After the shipment arrived at Grangemouth on board the Ineos Insight, Ineos tweeted that it was a "historic moment" as its "vital cargo" was unloaded.

Drilling for shale gas is only at an exploratory phase in the UK.

The Scottish government has placed a moratorium on all fracking in Scotland while a study into its impact is carried out.

It said ministers were "unavailable to attend" the arrival of the shale gas shipment.

Ineos argues that with the North Sea's supply of ethane dwindling, the shipments from the US are the only way of bringing in sufficient gas at low enough prices to maintain its olefins and polymers business at Grangemouth in the face of global competition.

It believes the US shale gas will provide sufficient raw material to run its manufacturing site at full rates, something that has not been possible for many years.

The Grangemouth facility is home to Scotland's only crude oil refinery and produces the bulk of fuels used in Scotland, with the site said to contribute about 3% of Scottish GDP.

The company has signed 15-year contracts with suppliers to pipe ethane from the shale fields in the US to purpose-built export facilities on the east and Gulf coasts of America.

From there, the gas will be shipped across the Atlantic in a fleet of eight specially-designed Dragon-class ships commissioned by Ineos.

Unconventional oil and gas extraction remains controversial in the UK, with the UK Labour Party following Scottish Labour in backing a ban on fracking if it wins the next general election.

Despite pleas from Ineos to embrace shale gas drilling, the Scottish government moratorium on the practice remains in place, in contrast to the pro-fracking stance of the UK government.

The Scottish Parliament voted to support an outright ban on fracking in June after SNP MSPs abstained.

The Scottish government said it had commissioned a series of independent research projects into unconventional oil and gas to examine potential environmental, health and economic impacts to inform its "evidence-led approach" to the issue.

A spokesman said these projects were due to report later this year, with the public consultation taking place during winter 2016-17.

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