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Swiss firm bids to be British shale gas giant

Swiss-based chemicals firm Ineos launched plans Thursday to become the biggest player in Britain's fracking sector with a $1-billion investment in the nation's shale gas industry.

Swiss firm bids to be British shale gas giant
Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe. Photo: AFP

"Ineos has today announced it is planning to invest $1 billion (£640 million) in UK shale gas exploration and appraisal," it said in a statement which also sparked anger from environmentalists over the controversial energy extraction method.
   
Ineos, headquartered in Rolle in the canton of Vaud, added that "substantial further investment would follow if the company moved into development and production".
   
The company already has fracking licences near its plant at Grangemouth in Scotland, but is applying for more in Scotland and northern England.
   
"If Ineos wins all the shale gas licences it has applied for, Ineos will be the biggest player in the UK shale gas industry," the statement added.
   
In order to extract shale gas, a high-pressure blend of water, sand and chemicals is blasted deep underground to release hydrocarbons trapped between layers of rock.
   
Campaigners argue that the controversial process — known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing technology — causes water pollution and earth tremors, while energy groups say it drives down gas prices, creates jobs and boosts economic growth.

'Revolutionize' manufacturing?

"I want Ineos to be the biggest player in the UK shale gas industry," said chairman Jim Ratcliffe.
   
"I believe shale gas could revolutionize UK manufacturing and I know Ineos has the resources to make it happen, the skills to extract the gas safely and the vision to realize that everyone must share in the rewards."
   
Ineos already has two fracking licences for over 120,000 acres, and has also invested £400 million in a project to bring US shale gas into Grangemouth, which is Scotland's only oil refinery.
   
The company has also pledged to give local communities six percent of the revenues from shale gas production.
   
Addressing a London news conference, Ratcliffe told reporters on Thursday that the offer to local communities was "generous" and could be worth up to £400 million over 15 years.
   
The Ineos boss said some people could become millionaires, adding: "That's fine."
   
And he said that manufacturing in the UK had "collapsed" and needed a boost such as cheaper energy from shale gas. "It could be the saviour of manufacturing," he said.
   
Thursday's announcement was however slammed as "hype" and "risky" by Greenpeace.

'Spin-powered bandwagon' 

"Investment is essential to transform our energy system, but not giant speculative bets on unproven and risky resources," said Simon Clydesdale, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK.
   
"Ineos have jumped on a spin-powered bandwagon which is going nowhere," Clydesdale said.
   
"Independent academics recently called out government ministers over the ludicrous levels of hype around shale gas, saying 'shale gas has been completely oversold'."
   
But the announcement was welcomed by British Prime Minister David Cameron's government.
   
Energy minister Matt Hancock tweeted that he was "delighted" at the news, which he described as "a strong stride forward for this important domestic energy source".
   
Cameron had announced in January that his government was going "all out for shale" as it seeks to create more jobs, boost taxation revenues and reduce Britain's reliance on foreign energy sources.
   
European Union states are, however, divided on fracking, with countries such as France banning the controversial process.
   
Oil output in the United States is, meanwhile, soaring as the nation embraces a shale energy revolution.

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Syngenta rejects claims of pesticide bee deaths

Basel-based agrichemical giant Syngenta on Friday urged Brussels to withdraw plans to slap a two-year ban on so-called neonicotinoid pesticides, saying blaming them for bee deaths was wrongheaded.

Syngenta rejects claims of pesticide bee deaths
Syngenta maintains study blaming pesticide for bee deaths is flawed. Photo: Jon Sullivan

Syngenta said that a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report on the risks posed to bees was "fundamentally flawed".

The European Commission — the Brussels-based executive of the 27-nation European Union — aims to rein in the use of such pesticides in a bid to prevent a disastrous collapse in population of an insect considered vital to the food chain.
 
"The European Commission has been using this flawed EFSA report to justify proposed restrictions on this technology," Syngenta's chief operating officer, John Atkin, said in a statement.

Last month, the EFSA said that neonicotinoid insecticides used in maize, rapeseed, sunflower and cotton cultivation posed "disturbing" risks to with bees and other pollinating insects hugely important for food production, especially of fruit.
 
EFSA said the insecticides attack the central nervous system of insects, causing paralysis and death.
   
The chemicals in doubt — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — are present in insecticides produced by Syngenta and German counterpart Bayer.
 
According to Syngenta, however, further review has shown that the EFSA based its assessment on "unrealistic and excessive" seed planting rates, between two and four times higher than would be used in modern agriculture.
   
Syngenta — the top player on the global agrichemical market — said that using normal sowing rates in the study would have told a different story.
 
It claimed that the EFSA would have concluded that the risk to bees is extremely low and that in reality neonicotinoid technology is safe.
   
Earlier this month, Atkin told AFP that Syngenta would do all it could to defend the reputation of its products.

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