Secretive Billionaire Wants to Expand Fossil Fuel Empire in the US
James Ratcliffe, the billionaire owner of the chemical giant Ineos Corporation, is pushing for a dangerous pipeline through Pennsylvania, while the company quietly works to start fracking operations in Scotland and the UK, says Food & Water Watch’s Patrick Woodall
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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network and I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. That was environmentalists in Scotland who are elated when their government announced that it would extend its existing moratorium on fracking indefinitely. Well, this was also good news for the global anti-fracking movement. It was very bad news for James Ratcliffe, a secretive billionaire, owner of the chemical colossal Ineos Corporation. The company has been pushing hard to begin fracking in Scotland and in England. Ineos is the largest holder of shale drilling licenses in the UK. They have been drilling in historical sites such as legendary Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood. It turns out that Ineos Corporation is also a key player in the fracking business here in the United States.
Now, James Ratcliffe wants to expand his business by putting the highly controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline, now owned by Energy Transfer Partners, into operation, which would carry highly volatile gas liquids 350 miles across the state of Pennsylvania to an export terminal near Philadelphia. With us to discuss the chemical giant, and fracking billionaire James Ratcliffe, and the pipeline, we’re joined by Patrick Woodall. He’s the research director at Food and Water Watch, where he has just authored a report titled, “Chemical Billionaire’s Bid for Fossil Fuel Empire,” which is a profile of Ineos. I thank you so much for joining us today, Patrick.
PATRICK WOODALL: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Patrick, let’s get down to this history of James Ratcliffe. Who is he? How did he make his billions to, eroding the earth?
PATRICK WOODALL: Ratcliffe is an engineer by trade. He went … Was in some chemical companies in the UK, went back to business school, and then used his talents in the venture capital world to assemble a company. It gave him enough starter cash to build and start Ineos. In 1998 he started his first plant for Ineos that has grown into a company that originally had sales of just over 100 … 20 million dollars or so, or 120 million dollars in 1998. It now is 29.5 billion dollars sales. In 2016 it’s grown from one plant to over 70 manufacturing plants across the world.
He has done this through a series of pretty aggressive takeovers largely financed with high yield debt and strange security instruments where he’s amassed a bunch of debt to buy a company, then he cuts costs and squeezes the company to basically finance the next takeover. He did this over the last 20 years. I mean, there was no Ineos in 1997. Now, it’s one of the 5th biggest chemical companies in the world. He did it by racking up a series of takeovers from companies like BASF, and Bear, and Monsanto, and Union Carbide, and Imperial Chemical.
This built a huge empire starting with chemicals, specialty chemicals and then moving into more of a petrochemical business where he is largely using fossil fuel inputs to make other chemical products. When he did that, that coincided with the US shale boom. As the fracking took off in the US and drove gas prices down, Ratcliffe realized this was a way to really supercharge his business and he started importing natural gas from the, fracked gas from the US through … From, which is supposed to come through the Mariner Pipeline system. He’s been importing it on these giant dragon ships that are going to his plants in Scotland and Norway where these natural gas liquids are being processed into plastics, where he begins to manufacture plastics.
It’s a huge, enormous, sprawling, global operation, but it’s really held by just him pretty much. He’s 60% owner of a firm that is … Goes across the planet. It’s ultimately housed out of the tax haven, the isle of man, with him and two of his sidekicks in Ineos. They own almost all of it and it has a super complex corporate structure with operations in the UK, and Europe, and all over the place, and a really convoluted holding … Corporate holding company structure.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Patrick, tell us about his business in the US in terms of fracking. What hold does he have on fracking here?
PATRICK WOODALL: He has very long term contracts with the companies that are fracking in the US to deliver gas to his plants in Scotland and in Norway. Ultimately, I think, he’s building facilities to import in other places like Belgium. The US fracking business and everything that comes with it, all the environmental destruction, all the polluted water, all the toxic waste that is comes out of the ground with this fracking operation, all of that is a key to his business empire. He’s using the US gas to supply his factories in Europe right now. He also is using [inaudible 06:08] platform to launch his bid to be the king of fracking in the UK.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Patrick, you mentioned the Mariner East 2 pipeline, which is now currently owned by Energy Transfer Partners, I understand. What does Ineos want to do with it and what impact will it have, of course, environmentally on our health?
PATRICK WOODALL: Environmentally, what this would do would be create a West-East pipeline that would feed from the fracking across Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and West Virginia into the Marcus Hook Terminal where it would go worldwide. This is one of the big problems with viewing fossil fuels as an export opportunity because we’re exporting the fuel, but really the pollution that comes with it and the dependency on fossil fuels, the greenhouse gas emissions, they stay here. We export the energy, but we keep the pollution and we keep the carbon emissions. Remember that the methane leaks from the oil and gas infrastructure are the second biggest cause of global warming so everything that we do on these pipelines and the fracking that is feeding the pipelines in Pennsylvania is all substantially contributing to global warming.
When you have a company like Ineos that’s doubling down on fossil fuels, is relying on frack gas to make it’s chemicals. That is a situation that’s really, instead of going to the clean, renewable future that we need, is going backwards to a fossil fuel path that is really detrimental to fighting climate change.
SHARMINI PERIES: Let’s take a look, Patrick, of a clip put out by James Ratcliffe who owns Ineos about why we need fracking and how renewable energy is not viable to replace UK’s energy needs.
Speaker 5: We would need to build around 200,000 wind turbines, but even if we did that, they wouldn’t provide all of our energy all of the time. Wind turbines don’t work when there’s no wind. Solar energy has similar issues. For example, solar farms need lots of land and don’t work at night.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Patrick, what’s your response to this kind of advertising?
PATRICK WOODALL: Well, I think it’s incredibly deceptive and the reality is that there are lots of ways to build a resilient electricity grid that relies entirely on wind and solar. The wind blows at night. One of those ways is through storage. Right? The storage technology is rapidly emerging and the reality is that it’s way better to build storage, electric storage batteries to serve these energy networks than it is to build more gas power plants and to rely on more fracked gas. That is really the most deceptive thing where the way to fight climate change is more fracking is basically what they’re implying. That is ridiculous.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Patrick, I wish you all the best in getting the word out in terms of your new report. Anything we can do to help, we’re here. Thank you so much for joining us.
PATRICK WOODALL: Thank you, it’s great to be here.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.