A chemicals and energy giant with a base in County Durham has proposed drilling a shale gas test site in the UK to demonstrate that fracking can be done safely, while the country is struggling with high energy prices.
Ineos founder and chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe called the energy crisis a “ridiculous situation” and offered to drill the UK test site. It comes after the government published its energy strategy which focuses on securing the UK’s energy supply, as Western countries consider how to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas.
Sir Jim said: “The UK is in the midst of an energy crisis with ever-rising prices pushing people into energy poverty while giving huge sums of money to oppressive regimes. It’s a ridiculous situation with so much gas under our feet and today we are offering to drill a shale test site to show that a competent operator can be trusted to develop the technology safely”.
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Just months ago, more than a decade of efforts to develop hydraulic fracturing for shale gas appeared to be over as authorities ordered the sealing of the only two horizontal drilled wells in Lancashire. But with the energy crisis there have been pressures to re-examine the controversial gas source, and the order to permanently seal the wells has been shelved.
The government has also commissioned a review of the science around hydraulic fracturing, which could pave the way for lifting the current moratorium on the process introduced because of the tremors it has caused. But Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng warned fracking would take years of exploration and development to produce commercial levels of gas.
Ineos said the moratorium was imposed because “the science behind shale was totally ignored and politicians bowed to an extreme vocal minority”.
Promoting his new energy strategy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government was taking a “reasonable and pragmatic view” on new North Sea oil and gas and said it was important to allow domestic resources rather than importing higher carbon fossil fuels from Russia and other places. .
Sir Jim said: “The UK is right to review its energy policy and look again at the North Sea as part of the answer to our energy needs. But, as the US has shown, the shale gas from home could make us self-sufficient in 10 years and we also have to review that”.
The Ineos chairman said the company would invite government inspectors to monitor the site and fix it if science shows there are problems.
“But if, as we believe, the opposite is true, we would ask that the government look again at shale gas which would allow the UK to benefit from its own resources, to massively reduce the cost of energy and to ensure our long-term energy independence,” said Sir Jim.
The move comes amid wider calls to end the age of fossil fuels to tackle dangerous climate change, and Ineos said it was “part of the growing renewable energy revolution”.
“But renewable technologies are not yet reliable enough to take over and the UK will need gas for the next 30 years as it goes through the energy transition,” the chemicals group said.