The UK and Scottish governments both remain fully behind the North Sea Transition Deal, which envisages production of oil and gas continuing up to 2050 and beyond. Hydrogen – initial produced from natural gas – is key to the strategy, and the assumption is that hydrogen will replace direct use of natural gas for home cooking and heating, the source of around 23% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen produced from gas is usually called ‘blue hydrogen’ and while burning hydrogen involves no emissions, the production of blue hydrogen involves the emission of large amounts of carbon dioxide.
The case against the strategy is growing apace. Back in August 2021 Chris Jackson, the chair of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (UKHFCA) resigned just days before the publication of the Westminster government’s hydrogen strategy. He stated:
“I believe passionately that I would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on that fact that blue hydrogen is at best an expensive distraction, and at worst a lock-in for continued fossil fuel use that guarantees we will fail to meet our decarbonisation goals.”
Last week we posted on the findings of research by the Imperial College Energy Futures Lab comparing hydrogen and heat pumps for domestic heating. The report recommended that hydrogen will be important in decarbonising some specific industrial and transport processes but should not be used for domestic heating. Now MPs on the Westminster Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee have come to the same conclusion. The committee’s report slates the government for the lack of clarity in phasing out domestic gas boilers. It argues that hydrogen is not a practical or sustainable solution. And it condemns the lack of urgency shown by the government in organising for and supporting viable alternatives such as heat pumps and district schemes.
We should be clear that despite the evidence to contrary the hydrogen-based strategy for home heating – while driven by the oil and gas industry – remains the policy option preferred by Westminster, Holyrood and some of the major unions. Now’s the time for climate activists in workplaces to insist that unions need to rethink and for of all us to get behind a campaign to phase out North Sea Oil and Gas and end all the attempts to pretend that a net zero oil and gas basin (the purported aim of the North Sea Transition Deal) is possible.
On the 20th September 2021 we cohosted with Lighthouse Books a discussion on the recently published book ‘Crude Britannia – how oil shaped a nation’. The discussion was introduced by Terry Macalister one of the books authors. This is the video of Terry’s introduction.
For anyone after a copy of the book, you can order Crude Britannia from the Lighthouse website & get 15% off using the code SCOT-E-THREE
Since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, the UK’s developed oil and gas reserves have increased by 800 million barrels of oil and gas, bringing UK developed reserves to 6.55 billion barrels.
UK law and Scottish Government policy of Maximising Economic Recovery, which requires every last drop to be drilled from the North Sea, would triple UK emissions from oil and gas.
To limit warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5ºC no new oil & gas fields, including Cambo, can be licensed or developed and North Sea production must be wound down in the next decade.
In line with equity, the UK – as a wealthy nation with high historic emissions and low economic dependence on oil revenues – should phase out of oil and gas faster than countries for which it would be much harder. Not all of the 6.55 billion barrels in currently producing or under developed reserves can be extracted – some will have to close early, before fully extracting their reserves.
Every delay damages the prospects of a well-planned and just transition for workers and communities currently reliant on the industry.
We plan to publish a more detailed review of the report and if you would like to contribute your thoughts on the issues that it raises please do get in touch.
Last month the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, together with Oil and Gas UK released the text of the North Sea Transition Deal. We will look at this document in more detail in a future post.
Suffice it to say that this is ‘transition’ that references the climate crisis, and talks about net zero, but is wholly driven by the interests of the oil industry. The two big ticket items in the strategy are ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ and ‘Hydrogen’. And although the document comes out of Westminster, the minutes of the North Sea Transition Forum that brings together the industry with the UK and Scottish governments, suggest that Holyrood is on board with the strategy.
Injecting new life into assets – Supporting Net-Zero goals and producing more oil. A novel polymer flooding agent is helping to improve field recovery rates and accelerate the energy transition process.
You may need to read those headlines a few times! The new polymer makes it easier to extract the oil. This reduces the amount of carbon emissions associated with the effort of extraction. Oil is pumped faster, and more oil can be extracted from a given reservoir. So, there’s a small reduction in emissions at the point of production and more oil released into the system. The magic here is that we are not supposed to count this massively greater amount of carbon because the greenhouse gases will be captured (by as yet unavailable technology). And, of course, the polymer is available now – the oil is being pumped now – and carbon capture may be available at some unknown point in the future.
Check out Scot.E3’s campaigning pledge for COP26 which outlines action to cut through the greenwashing and magical thinking that currently characterises policy on transition from fossil fuels.
Today a new oil and gas workers’ website prises open a window onto the North Sea, allowing a view of the Gannet platform.
Last week, under conditions of intense radio silence, Gannet operator Shell carried out a major down-man due to an outbreak of COVID-19 on board the oil & gas production facility.
In this period of deadly pandemic and necessary transition from fossil to renewable energy, silence is not an option for those who stand to lose most.
Now energy workers on the North Sea have a new meeting place where conversation can take place, news and views can be exchanged and the industry can come under scrutiny.
https://oilandgasworkers.org has been set up by Scot.E3 – campaigners for climate jobs and a “just transition”. The offshore workforce is invited to come together in conversation about the enormous changes facing their industry, their lives and the future of their families and communities.
The website and conversation follows up on the ground breaking work of oil watchdog “Platform”. Their recently published report “Offshore” surveyed the views of 1383 North Sea workers on industry conditions and the energy transition. The report gained wide publicity in the media last month and marks the first time the voices of oil & gas workers have been heard in this period of intense crisis in the industry.
Neil Rothnie spent his working life on the North Sea oilrigs. In this post he looks at Covid-19 and the slump in oil process and how oil workers pay the price for the super profits stolen by the oil companies.
COVID19 exposes that there are no “market” solutions to the real problems that face us. In fact the, “neo-liberal” market-led society has left us with a precarious health service which has all but had to shut down looking after the health of the majority of people just to be able to cope with this virus. And it’s left us with insufficient resources in the form of testing kits and PPE and ventilators. The market can’t lead us out of this COVID19 emergency (no one is even making this claim) neither will it be able to lead us out of global warming and the developing climate emergency. When the oil & gas industry says that it is the solution to global warming it’s lying. Their plan is business as usual – produce every drop that can be economically produced from the North Sea and (presumably) worldwide. Greed, private property and getting rich drive the oil industry. Co-operation, the recognition of the crucial role of key workers, an end to poverty homelessness and the provision of basic necessities to all has to be the response to COVID19. No going back to the days when our “heroes” will once again be the “celebrities” that stand in for and apologise for the filthy rich. Our heroes are health and care workers, supermarket and delivery workers. Let’s make sure it stays that way.
Under conditions of this Covid19 pandemic, the exploitation of the workforce has taken on a more overt and sinister form, where workers are herded offshore under conditions where it is impossible to maintain social distancing. Only a virtual news blackout has allowed employers to try and mitigate the risks (to their reputations) by jumping the queue being formed by health and care workers, and privately organising COVID19 testing for oil & gas workers going offshore. Who knows how effective this is, or whether the infection is spiraling offshore only to come home with these guys at the end of their trip? Are all the companies quarantining all outward and inward bound workers? Are they testing everyone every day? Otherwise what possible precautions could be put in place to get workers offshore via helicopter to work eat and sleep (sometimes in shared cabins) cheek by jowl in an atmosphere of endlessly recycled air?
Belatedly the industry have organised their own “testing” regimes but are still capable of fucking that up by sending guys offshore before results are in and have, in at least one case, ended up sending one guy out who had tested positive to the virus and then disallowed his fellow passengers from self-isolating.
The testing of oil & gas workers for COVID19 before many health services and care workers could get tests, needs I think to be challenged. It’s not on as far as I’m concerned. How essential are oil & gas workers during a pandemic and a global glut of oil? Even a 10% cut in global production isn’t enough to artificially hike the prices that we ultimately pay to levels where the rich can continue to get their “dividends”. Many of these workers, far from being “key” workers have turned out to not even be essential to the industry. The industry is sacking workers en mass in the midst of a social crisis that we’re all supposed to be in together. What bollocks!
Oil that workers have sweated and risked life and limb to produce is trading at negative prices in a market that’s driven by greed and geopolitics and periodically crashes. Where the workers pay with their jobs, again and again? An industry that cannot learn the lessons of the periodic disaster and near-disasters and must be very close to another. What kind of life is that for the workforce? And all this from the industry that threatens an existential crisis for people and nature.
If the employers can’t/won’t furlough their workers, then the Government should step in and do so directly. If the Government won’t do it they should come out and explain why.
At every opportunity, and to get out of the holes they’ve dug themselves into, the industry periodically drives up exploitation by driving down wages and increasing offshore work periods. Dumping whole swathes of the workforce is the traditional method of achieving this. We’re well into the latest phase of this with another 30,000 UK job losses predicted on top of the steady stream of redundancies already underway.
We need to go for the industry by the throat and break this unholy alliance that exists between them and the Government and in which the trade unions have been willing participants or “partners” in sweetheart agreements. The media has largely failed to be anything more than a propaganda mouthpiece.
Should we not shut-in oil production, furlough the workers and use up the global glut if need be. Is this not the time to start offering oil & gas workers the chance to retrain for the renewables sector (or for whatever they want) and escape the ongoing nightmare of an industry that is an eater of men and women and a threat to our very existence?
The coal miners, their families and communities were fucked-off in the last energy transition. Oil & gas workers will get the same treatment if they stand by and let it happen this time.