One of the US fracking companies contracted to deliver gas to Scotland has been fined for contaminating the environment, prompting renewed calls for Scotland to ban the industry.
Range Resources, headquartered in Texas, has a 15-year deal with the petrochemical giant, INEOS, to supply ethane to Grangemouth. The gas is extracted from US shale by fracturing underground rock.
The long-awaited first boatload of gas from the US fracking industry is expected to arrive at Grangemouth this week. It is due to be celebrated by INEOS – and scorned by protestors.
But Range Resources has a chequered record in the US, where it has been in fierce dispute with farmers and environmentalists. It was fined $4.15 million by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2014 for polluting soil and groundwater.
The company said it was “deeply disappointed that these violations occurred”. It also agreed to pay a $1.75 million settlement to the department for failing to keep proper records of the water it used over five years.
In May this year the DEP rescinded another proposed $8.9 million fine on Range Resources for alleged methane pollution after an appeal by the company. But the DEP has said that it is still investigating the matter.
In April a senior Range Resources executive, Terry Bossert, apologised after he was reported suggesting that the company should avoid fracking near the homes of the rich. Bossert, who has since left the company, said his “attempt to interject dry sarcasm was clearly a mistake”.
In 2011 Range Resources, along with others, agreed a $750,000 settlement with a Washington County farming family after a bitter dispute about fracking. The agreement included a legal gagging order.
Karen Feridun, founding member of Pennsylvanians Against Fracking, pointed out that Range Resources and other companies had dug 9,900 gas wells in the state. “The impacts to the environment, human and animal health, safety, property value, and quality of life have been profound,” she said.
“By the time the industry has finished with Pennsylvania, the state will be unrecognisable. Much of what we are losing is irreplaceable, but even that which can be replaced will be the taxpayer’s burden to bear.”
Ron Gulla, a former resident of Hickory, Pennsylvania who signed a lease for fracking on his land in 2002, accused the industry of destroying it. “The fracking industry has brought permanent damage across the Pennsylvania region, polluted our air, land and water and is destroying our livelihoods,” he said.
“Those living near drilling, infrastructure or waste sites have suffered water contamination, spills, wastewater dumping and gas leaks, as well as multiple health impacts.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland argued that fracking should not take place in Pennsylvania or in Scotland. “It is completely unacceptable to attempt to prop up INEOS’s petrochemicals plants on the back of human suffering and environmental destruction across the Atlantic,” said the environmental group’s head of campaigns, Mary Church.
“Setting aside the devastating local impacts of fracking, the climate consequences of extracting yet more fossil fuels are utterly disastrous. We urge the Scottish Government to act swiftly to ban fracking.”
Range Resources accepted that it had “experienced challenges from time to time”, but stressed the multiple benefits of fracking. Shale gas had reduced climate pollution and provided affordable energy, jobs and royalties to hard-working landowners, a company spokesman said.
“Range remains fully committed to being good stewards of the environment while doing the same in the communities where we live and work,” he added. “This includes the advancement of best practices, transparency and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders so that issues can be appropriately managed and we can maximise this tremendous opportunity for future generations.”
According to INEOS, the planned boatloads of ethane came from many different US suppliers. “INEOS acquires ethane from US shale gas because it is not available from the North Sea in sufficient quantity to run the Grangemouth site,” said the company’s communications manager, Richard Longden.
“Without shale gas from the US the Grangemouth site would have to close with a loss of jobs and valuable materials for manufacturing across the UK. Without a route to chemical production it is likely that ethane would have to be destroyed in flares in the US because much of it must be removed from domestic gas supplies.”