THE owner of the Grangemouth oil and chemical complex Ineos has confirmed it is in discussions with oil giant BP about possibly buying the Forties pipeline system – a move that has caused alarm among trade unions.

The pipeline is one of the oldest in the North Sea, and started operating in the Forties field in 1975. On average, it transports around 450,000 barrels of oil per day - 40 per cent of UK production.

Ineos said the details of the talks were confidential and the company did not want to say any more at this stage.

But the union Unite is seeking an urgent meeting with Ineos to discuss the move, after being involved in two major disputes with the company over the treatment of workers at Grangemouth in 2008 and 2013. During the second dispute, the company – owned by billionaire Jim Ratcliffe – threatened to shut the facility.

Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish secretary, said the issue was wider than workers’ rights.

“The Forties pipeline system carries a massive amount of the UK’s oil,” he said. “Grangemouth is the one of the country’s major refineries. Both of these pieces of vital national infrastructure could soon be effectively in the hands of one man. That is an incredible amount of power.

“We need a national debate now. Do our politicians believe in an economy where power is used for the benefit of us all, or are they happy with power in the hands of a tiny minority whose biggest concern is their own personal benefit?”