One of the lead stories on the BBC today is the UK’s oil and gas industry assertion that the best response to tackling greenhouse gas emissions is to continue production at maximum levels. Oil and Gas UK’s “Roadmap to 2035” argues consumption would remain above the levels they could produce.
Neil Rothnie, life long offshore oil worker and activist, argues the case for an end to business as usual and a just transition out of hydrocarbon production in the North Sea.
Both the UK oil industry and Government seem to think that new licenses should be issued and oil and gas exploration on the North Sea stepped up. The industry estimates that 20 billion bbls of fossil fuel remain under the North Sea. No one in authority seems to think that these reserves should not be fully exploited.
This begs the questions;
If a policy of business as usual is to be applied to the North Sea, why then should Saudi Arabian, Gulf of Mexico, Venezuelan, Sakhalin, Nigerian and other hydrocarbon reserves not also be fully exploited?
What would the effect of producing all the world’s oil and gas be on global warming and climate change?
The Scottish Government seem to be prepared to try and lead us to an independent Scotland based on a carbon economy. According to the First Minister, Scotland’s carbon emissions would increase if oil production from the North Sea was stopped. This only makes any kind of sense if there is to be no transition to a renewable energy system to replace fossil fuel from the North Sea.
Despite government complacency, the oil industry will come under increasing pressure – financial and political – to reduce and eventually end hydrocarbon production, though perhaps not till it’s too late to avoid catastrophic climate change if the politicians and industry leaders have their way.
The past practice of both oil industry and Government suggests that the workforce, offshore and onshore, will then be abandoned to their own devices, creating the sort of wilderness in the North East of Scotland that the UK coalfields became when there was no just transition from coal. Energy workers and their families from all over the UK would then be very badly affected. Though this time it looks as though they won’t suffer in isolation if climate science predictions are realised.
The unjust transition from coal wasn’t inevitable. The miners and their families were punished for standing up to Thatcher’s plans to cripple organised labour. Offshore employers wanted anyone but ex-miners with their tradition of struggle, on the North Sea, and the unions failed to step up to the mark. This time it has to be different for everyone’s sake.
A just transition to renewable energy could be planned and enacted starting now. New oil and gas exploration could immediately be stopped and a planned rundown of hydrocarbon production and a massive development of renewable resources begun now.
Not a penny of the oil windfall has so far been saved for the peoples of the UK. Is it not now imperative that all (declining) oil profits must be immediately re-invested in developing the renewables energy sector? Retraining of the oil industry workforce is a must where there is an expected skills gap in a much-expanded renewables sector. The current oil and gas workforce can and should be re-deployed to replace the fossil fuel that we can no longer afford to produce. Without a just transition to renewable energy from sun, wind and wave, we are fucked.
Our children and grandchildren deserve more from us than business as usual. They and the rest of the remaining life on the planet need a chance of a future that does not include the misery of living through a global meltdown.