FROM next year, US shale gas will arrive in Grangemouth on a "virtual pipeline" across the Atlantic.

Eventually eight ships will be continuously moving 40,000 barrels of liquefied gas a day originally from Pennsylvania, via docks near Philadelphia, to Scotland and Rafnes in Norway.

The operation will be ongoing every day for 15 years, which Ineos says will secure the future of the Grangemouth plant which has suffered following a significant downturn in North Sea gas production. Gas is an essential raw material for much of what is manufactured at Grangemouth and is also used to power the facility.

The first two of an eight ship fleet, costing around £75 million each, were officially named yesterday at a ceremony in Shanghai, China. Shale gas will be liquefied and transported at -90C in the ships, which it would be impossible to move at such scale at normal temperatures. The vessels are the first of their kind ever created, with none ever created capable of carrying so much ethane in pressurised tanks.

Jim Ratcliffe, the Ineos chairman, said: "It was an enormous engineering problem to crack because you can't transport gas. Gas takes up too much space and it's too expensive to transport. So you have to liquefy the gas which means -90 degrees and everything needs to be built to cope with these immensely low temperatures."

He added: "We have seen how US shale gas revolutionised US manufacturing and we believe these huge ships will help do the same for Europe... The scale of the whole project is truly breathtaking."

At Grangemouth, new docks and a pipeline network have been built to store the gas. It will be held at a 40 metre high ethane storage tank, capable of storing 33,000 tonnes of liquid gas making it Europe's largest. The tank is being built as part of a £450m investment in the site, Scotland's largest manufacturing complex, which was agreed after its future came under threat following industrial disputes in 2013.

Over the course of the 15-year contract, each ship will travel the equivalent of five return trips from the Earth to the moon. More than 800,000 tonnes of ethane gas will be transported every year.

Steffen Jacobsen, CEO of Evergas, the Danish gas shipping firm that designed the ships, said: "I have worked in the gas shipping business for 35 years and it's fair to say that these ships represent a world first on many levels. No-one has ever tried to ship ethane in these quantities and over this distance before. To do this, we had to invent completely new ways of doing things. These ships are truly unique."

While Europe is a long way from embracing fracking, the process has revolutionised the energy industry in the United States.

In the USA, there are more than one million wells. The price of natural gas has plummeted in recent years, offering a huge boost to manufacturing. Many analysts believe the prevalence of US fracking - offering a secure energy supply and valuable jobs - avoided huge volatility in the oil price that might have been expected following the recent volatility in the Middle East.

Mr Ratcliffe claimed to The Herald that fracking in America was non-controversial. "I did a tour a year ago for a week," he said. "I just went from one fracking site to another, they were drilling on some, fracking on others. Next door to schools, some were under airports, they were all over the place. Nobody was in the slightest bit fussed about it."

While some areas have undoubtedly benefited from fracking, a method of extracting natural gas from under the ground by injecting high-pressure liquids and chemicals to crack the rock and release the hydrocarbons within, it is not universally welcomed. In some areas, it encounters huge opposition.

Indeed, some states have banned fracking altogether, over concerns that it causes earthquakes, risks polluting the water supply and is damaging to health. Last December, New York banned fracking citing the potential for "significant health risks."

In Colorado, several cities voted to ban the technique back in 2012.

Meanwhile, moratoriums has been imposed across Europe. The UK (George Osborne has spoken out in support of a "shale gas revolution"), Denmark and Poland are seen as the only states with an open mind about fracking. Germany has imposed tough restrictions with France also banning the practice.