Early this month, the Scottish government announced that it would extend its moratorium on fracking for an indefinite period of time. This was good news for the global anti-fracking movement, but very bad news for James Ratcliffe, the secretive billionaire owner of the chemical colossus Ineos Corporation.
His company is already a key player in the fracking business here in the United States. The company imports U.S. gas derived from fracking to its chemical plants in Europe, using this key feedstock for one of its primary businesses, the manufacture of plastic pellets. Those materials make it to Europe thanks to its fleet of so-called “dragon ships,” which travel across the Atlantic Ocean for processing at refineries like the Ineos-owned facility at Grangemouth in Scotland.
That business will see a serious boost if the Mariner East 2 pipeline is put into operation. The highly controversial project, now owned by Energy Transfer Partners, would carry highly volatile gas liquids 350 miles across the state of Pennsylvania to an export terminal near Philadelphia, where it can be loaded onto the Ineos ships.
Despite the size of the company, Ineos remains shrouded in mystery. A new issue brief from our affiliate Food & Water Watch Europe, “Chemical Billionaire’s Bid for Fossil Fuel Empire,” provides an in-depth look at the rise of Ineos. And it lays out the company's plans for the future, which are dangerously simple: Push for more fracking in the United States, while buying up licenses and infrastructure to start drilling in the UK.
Ratcliffe’s “dream” is, in fact, a nightmare. As the new report documents, Ineos is not content with importing fracking-derived feedstocks via its trans-Atlantic virtual pipeline. The company has been pushing hard to begin fracking in Scotland and England. Ineos is the largest holder of shale drilling licenses in the United Kingdom, including significant historical sites such as the Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood lore. And the company is also making substantial investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, including storage tanks and pipelines, in preparation for a European fracking bonanza.
But there’s just one problem: It might not ever happen. The growing public opposition to fracking in Scotland and England, and the movement to stop the Mariner East 2 here, is a serious threat to Ineos’s plans to frack everywhere it wants. Despite the company’s huge investments in lobbying government officials, it was unable to sway the Scottish government to support fracking. The company even released a last-minute video pleading the pro-fracking case, to no avail. And the resurgent Labor Party in England has said it would support a fracking ban there as well.
As the new report makes clear, Ratcliffe has made billions by placing some very risky bets. He has profited off the misery and destruction caused by fracking in Pennsylvania and Ohio. But those communities—and the global movement supporting them—are fighting to stop Ineos in its tracks.