Red velvet curtains hung on the windows and painted cherubs played on the ceiling as Jim Ratcliffe accepted the 2016 ICIS Kavaler Award at the Metropolitan Club in New York last week.
The British billionaire is the first foreigner to be awarded the honour, given by leaders in the chemical industry. It comes as Ineos, the chemicals company he founded, plans to bring fracking – the controversial oil and gas extraction process – back to the UK.
Ineos is planning as many as 30 applications for fracking sites in the UK within the next year. As part of its campaign to win over critics, Ineos invited journalists to tour fracking sites in Pennsylvania operated by Consol, a Pittsburgh-based producer of natural gas and coal and, supposedly, an example of why fracking will be good for the UK.
What’s in store for the UK can be seen about an hour southwest of Pittsburgh, in township of Switzerland, Ohio, where a rig stands near a farm. The well is in its earliest stages: drilling goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sitting in a big armchair surrounded by screens, “T-Ball”, a burly 6ft drill operator, works 12-hour shifts, controlling the drilling like a video game. He does this for two-week stints. At night, another person takes over – also working a 12-hour shift.
Ineos estimates that it will be at least five years before any of its UK wells are actually producing shale gas.