Written by Kelly Gilblom. This article first appeared in Bloomberg Markets.
Ineos AG, Britain’s largest closely held company, has taken another step toward creating a shale boom on its side of the Atlantic.
The company promoted Ron Coyle to chief executive officer of its shale division. He has been with Ineos for almost 20 years, most recently as commercial director for its phenol division. He will oversee a subsidiary that includes three of the engineers that helped start the U.S. hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” boom in Texas.
Coyle’s tasks include winning over a skeptical British public, which has been loathe to extend reliance on fossil fuels and has doubts about the safety of fracking. He’ll also be in charge of a gas exploration campaign criss-crossing England, with success — in the form of commercial quantities of the fuel — not guaranteed.
Ineos’ fracking plans are already underway. The company is the largest holder of U.K. shale gas exploration licenses, with more than 1 million acres (405,000 hectares). It foresees drilling dozens of wells within the next year, and has submitted planning applications for two sites in northern England and proposed a third.
The company has said exploring shale gas is the best option for Britain, which may import almost 80 percent of its gas by 2035 and is reducing its reliance on more carbon-intensive coal. Still, support for domestic exploration remains low, with only 16 percent of the public approving of shale gas extraction, according to a government survey. A third of Britons disapprove, and the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat Party pledged to ban fracking in their party manifestos before June’s general election.
Concerns intensified in 2011, when fracking caused two earthquakes in northwest England. Though they were barely felt, the government put a one-year ban on the practice before saying it could be done safely. Two companies, Cuadrilla Resources Ltd., which caused the earthquakes, and Third Energy U.K. Gas Ltd. have permission to frack wells in the U.K. and expect to complete the work by next year.
Coyle has already started his new post, replacing Gary Haywood, who retired.