INEOS, which owns the Grangemouth oil refinery, has increased its exposure to the shale oil and gas business in Scotland and enlisted veterans of the US business to help guide its exploration efforts.

The chemicals giant has acquired an 80 per cent interest in a licence covering a big swathe of the Forth Valley area from Reach Coal Seam Gas, without disclosing a price. The licence covers an area of 400 square kilometres. It lies next to a licence in which INEOS bought a 51 per cent stake from BG in August. Subject to regulatory approval for the deal, INEOS will run operations on the new licence. Its initial plans include the drilling of two vertical wells and a seismic survey covering 100 km2.

Gary Haywood, chief executive of INEOS's exploration and production arm, said: "I am delighted to have concluded this deal in Scotland, which is a very good fit with our existing licence interest ... We are keen to move quickly to evaluate the potential of this resource, and determine if we can economically produce gas from this area. If we can, it will provide a local source of competitive energy and raw materials to support manufacturing jobs in Scotland."

Nick Steinsberger, Kent Bowker and Dan Steward, who worked on Mitchell Energy's successful drive to develop shale gas assets in the USA, have been recruited to help INEOS in the UK.

"The former Mitchell Energy team were among the pioneers of the shale gas revolution in the US, and they bring a vast experience of successful shale gas production from various areas of the US," said Mr Haywood.

Mitchell's founder, George Mitchell, was dubbed the father of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the US.