FURIOUS campaigners tonight branded multi-national gas firm INEOS “desperate” as the company set about launching an expected legal challenge over Scotland’s ban on fracking.
The firm openly admitted that it would seek a judicial review with partner Reach because the Scottish Government’s decision to extend a moratorium on planning consents indefinitely – an effective ban – would prove costly to their shareholders.
And it appeared to hint at a threat over the nation’s future energy capability by calling into question government energy policies.
In a statement issues this afternoon, INEOS Shale said it believed there had been “very serious errors within the decision-making process, including a failure to adhere to proper statutory process and a misuse of Ministerial power”.
The ban was brought in last October after a campaign spanning six years attracting tens of thousands of names in support. But even then, INEOS warned that Scotland would pay a “heavy price” for the move.
Today, they set out some of the context, claiming that included a potential £1 billion of investment and more than 3000 jobs.
In a statement, Tom Pickering, Operations Director at INEOS Shale, said: “The decision in October was a major blow to Scottish science and its engineering industry, as well as being financially costly to INEOS, other businesses and indeed the nation as a whole.
“It also removed at a stroke the potential for the country in these uncertain times to secure its own indigenous energy supply.
“We have serious concerns about the legitimacy of the ban and have therefore applied to the Court to ask that it review the competency of the decision to introduce it.”
The company also complained that it had potentially lost millions in being encouraged to set up in Scotland in the first place.
It claimed: ‘The 2015 moratorium was announced at a time when INEOS and other shale gas operators in Scotland, in reliance on what was then a supportive national and local planning policy position, had invested millions over the best part of a decade in acquiring licences and obtaining planning permissions to construct drilling sites in discrete, safe locations. Such investment has been rendered worthless as a consequence of the ban, even in areas where no fracking was proposed. This despite the panel of scientific experts appointed by the Scottish Government concluding that shale development is capable of being managed safely.’
Pickering added: “Natural gas keeps the power on and homes warm in Scotland as with the rest of the UK, and shale has the potential not only to meet these needs but also to have a positive impact on the economy and energy security.
“INEOS, Reach and other operators have invested significantly in unconventional development over the years, against a supportive regulatory and planning backdrop.
“If Scotland wants to continue to be considered as a serious place to do business, then it cannot simply remove the policy support that attracted that investment in the first place without proper procedures being followed and without the offer of appropriate financial compensation.
“In the light of these failings, INEOS has been left with no option other than to raise this legal challenge.”
However angry campaigners said the action showed not only how desperate INEOS were to salvage their dented pride and profits, but contempt for Scotland and the democratic will of the people.
Friends of the Earth Scotland Head of Campaigns Mary Church said: “INEOS’s legal challenge against the Scottish Government’s ban on fracking reeks of desperation from an industry that is failing to get results anywhere in Scotland, the UK or elsewhere in Europe.
“Wherever fracking has been proposed it has been strongly opposed by local communities and subject to serious delays and mounting costs.
“We are confident that the process to ban fracking was robust and fair, and the courts will find against INEOS.
“A two year process looked at mountains of scientific evidence that spoke of the risks of the unconventional oil and gas industry to our environment, climate and people’s health.
“There is overwhelming support from communities on the frontline of this industry, people the length and breadth of Scotland, and almost all the parties at Holyrood for this ban.
“In challenging this ban INEOS are attempting to overturn a democratic process that engaged tens of thousands of people across the country and found that 99% were opposed to the dirty industry.
“Sadly, given the companies tactics south of the border it’s little surprise that INEOS are taking this course of action.
“INEOS are no doubt taking this challenge to keep alive their hope of ever making any money out of this toxic industry.”
The challenge was also branded predictable and desperate by the Scottish Green Party.
Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Greens’ climate and energy spokesperson, also says the multinational chemicals company should accept they “lost the democratic debate” instead of throwing their toys of the pram.
Ruskell said: “This is a predictable and desperate attempt by an industry sinking under public protest in England to try and salvage the last drop of commercial benefit in Scotland.
“Scotland doesn’t want or need fracking and Ineos should accept they lost the democratic debate in the Scottish Parliament, the evidence was there to ban fracking and that is what Holyrood has done.
“This isn’t the first time that big business has thrown their toys out of the pram when they don’t get their own way.
“This and the recent challenge on minimum pricing shows just how little corporations care for Scotland’s environmental and social wellbeing.”
SNP MSP Angus MacDonald, whose Falkirk East constituency includes the processing site at Grangemouth, described the legal action as “extremely disappointing”
He added: “People across Scotland made it perfectly clear that they don’t want fracking to happen”.
The application will be heard at the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court.