THE Hampshire man at the head of one of Europe’s biggest petro-chemical companies insisted that “fracking” was safe as the first shipment of shale gas from the USA arrived in the UK.

Jim Ratcliffe, founder and chairman of Ineos, claimed the controversial system of gas extraction had could transform communities that have been blighted by the collapsing in manufacturing, as it has in the United States.

He spoke out as a tanker, carrying 27,500 m3 of ethane from US shale fields was about to dock at the Ineos refinery at Grangemouth in Scotland.

The tanker Ineos Insight, was one of a fleet of eight ships costing £1.6 billion which will criss-cross the Atalantic with their gas cargoes forming a ''virtual pipeline'' between the US and the UK and Norway.

Ineos says the shale gas will replace dwindling North Sea supplies and secure 10,000 jobs at Grangemouth Mr Ratcliffe, who has a home in the New Forest said: ''There simply is insufficient raw material coming out of the North Sea to run Grangemouth.''

Friends of the Earth Scotland, however, have spoken out about the ''environmental damage'' that has been caused in the USA where fracking is now a well-established industry.

Head of campaigns Mary Church said: ''It is completely unacceptable to attempt to prop up Ineos's petrochemicals plants on the back of human suffering and environmental destruction across the Atlantic.

''The fact that Scottish public money is tied up in this project is disgraceful.

''Setting aside the devastating local impacts of fracking, the climate consequences of extracting yet more fossil fuels are utterly disastrous.

''If Jim Ratcliffe was really concerned about the future of the Grangemouth plant and its workers, he would be planning for its transition to a low-carbon model.''

The Scottish Government currently has ban on fracking and the UK Labour party has said it would not allow shale gas extraction to go ahea dinthe Uk if it came to power..

But Mr Ratcliffe told BBC Radio that about one million shale wells had been developed in the US in the last decade, and while there ''have been occasional issues'' he insisted the process is safe.

Speaking on the Good Morning Scotland programme the Ineos chairman said: ''The United States is the most highly regulated society in the world, it has the largest chemical industry in the world which is highly regulated.

''They don't allow you to do things that are unsafe or environmentally unfriendly in the United States and I don't think shale is any different.

''You have to accept the world is not perfect, chemicals is not a perfect world, occasionally we have spillages and we have incidents because we're not perfect.

"It's like occasionally you get a puncture in your car. However hard you try things go wrong occasionally.

''But do you want your hot shower in the morning? There is a balance.''

Mr Ratcliffe said fracking had revived the US’s decaying industrial heartland, citing Pittsburgh as an example of a city whose economy had revived by the energy business.

Ineos has moved its international headquarters back to the UK, six years after the chemicals giant fell out with then prime minister Gordon Brown and relocated to Switzerland.

In 2010, the Labour government would not let the company defer a £350m VAT bill, prompting the move to Geneva.