NICOLA Sturgeon is facing questions over links with energy giant Ineos, after it emerged she held a meeting with the firm's billionaire boss while her administration was publicly calling an indefinite halt to fracking.


The Scottish Government has admitted the First Minister held talks with pro-fracking Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe on January 28, the same day SNP energy minister Fergus Ewing announced a moratorium on granting planning permission for unconventional oil and gas developments until a consultation and research into the impact of the technique are carried out.

The meeting, which took place at roughly the same time as Mr Ewing made his statement, coincided with a u-turn from Ineos which had spoken out strongly against a moratorium just 48 hours earlier after it was suggested by a committee of MPs.

On January 26, the firm argued fracking was safe and said delays risked the collapse of UK manufacturing, but following Mr Ewing's announcement it appeared to welcome the move saying it "understood the importance of consultation... We welcome the Scottish Government's decision to manage an evidence-based approach."

Campaign group Frack Off has questioned whether Ineos, which has licences for shale gas exploration across 700 square miles of land in central Scotland and wants to invest £640m in fracking, made its u-turn as it was offered private assurances by Ms Sturgeon that its interests were unlikely to be affected.

Ineos has said that a shale gas industry is unlikely to be established in the UK for three to five years and has continued preparatory work for fracking. It recently launched a charm offensive to win over public opinion.

Ed Pybus, spokesman for Frack Off Scotland, said: "Why was the First Minister meeting with these people and not someone further down the tree? What promises were made in exchange for their public support for the moratorium? I fear that local communities are being stitched up by backroom deals."

Industry-body UK Onshore Oil and Gas performed a similar about-face, saying a moratorium would "achieve nothing" on January 23 but expressed support for the Scottish Government's position five days later.

A series of parliamentary questions from Labour shadow energy minister Lewis Macdonald asking whether testing and drilling is covered by the moratorium have so far gone unanswered, despite being issued in mid-February.

The MSP said reluctance to provide answers was further evidence that the moratorium was "nothing but an attempt to deceive people who are concerned about fracking while letting the companies carry on regardless".

He added: "Those who listened to Fergus Ewing announce what he said was a moratorium on fracking will be astounded to learn that his boss was meeting with the leading champions of fracking in Scotland on the very same day.

"People are bound to wonder what Nicola Sturgeon had to say to Ineos while her energy minister was on his feet in the Scottish Parliament claiming that he was imposing a moratorium on fracking. Was she apologising to them for doing it? Was she telling them to forget about fracking in Scotland? Or did Nicola Sturgeon meet Ineos to tell them not to worry about the moratorium, it would only apply until after the next Holyrood election, and in the meantime they could explore for fracking opportunities anywhere in Scotland that took their fancy?"

Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said communities across Scotland would be "alarmed to learn that the First Minister was meeting Ineos on the very day of the announcement of the moratorium". He added: "Ineos plan 1,400 wells across Scotland and seem to be carrying on as if there was no moratorium."

The date of the meeting between Ineos and the First Minister, which was being planned in December, was released by the Scottish Government following a Freedom of Information request but officials have refused to disclose much of its correspondence with the firm over recent months.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said the meeting was scheduled long before the Mr Ewing's parliamentary statement.

She added: "The fact it took place has always been due for publication as part of the Government's regular proactive release of ministerial engagements."

A spokesman for Ineos did not expand on the meeting between the firm and the First Minister, but said the moratorium "may" impact on work it could carry out on sites for which it holds licences.

He added: "An important part of informing the debate on shale gas is to understand the underlying geology in Scotland and Ineos is well placed to help progress work in this area to prove these resources."