Opinion: Cameron and Salmond: it’s time to wave goodbye to UK’s North Sea oil and gas reserves

BP oil rig in the North Sea visited by David Cameron during his Scotland trip. Photo credit: The Prime Ministers Office – via flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen

Scotland’s independence debate this week turned it’s attention to the UK’s oil and gas reserves in the North Sea – reserves that for years have been dwindling.

Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, is basing the economics in these fossil fuels as the economic cornerstone of Scottish independence, while UK Prime Minister David Cameron is arguing that Scotland will need to stay in the UK for these resources best to be managed.

I’m afraid none of them are right. It’s seems like desperate measures; like squeezing a lemon that is almost completely dry of juice, or a family clinging on to a terminally ill person before he/she has departed. Some energy experts are cynical about the growth potential of the North Sea reserves – and rightly so. Even though there would be a slight increase in production, it would not last many years and the revenue it would generate would be offset by the cost of several ageing oil and gas rigs, that would need to be decommissioned in the years to come. In other words, basing a growth economy around the North Sea reserves are a false economy.

Mr Salmond also championed the Norwegian oil model as a model he would like to copy if Scotland were to gain independence. Norway are one of the per capita most wealthy countries in the world, much of that due to revenues from the oil and gas sector. The Norwegian government have used those revenues to create an oil fund that contributes to Norway’s social spending, international aid and combating international deforestation. Because of that the Scandinavian country are among those countries that give most to vulnerable countries and are internationally recognised for that.

Scottish oil fund impossible
Let’s just say that UK’s oil and gas reserves weren’t dwindling, but increasing. Even then it would be difficult to copy the Norwegian model. At the heart of the Norwegian model is the multinational oil and gas company Statoil, but the crucial factor here is that Statoil are 70% owned by the Norwegian state, hence the name. In English, meaning State-oil. State regulation is the key reason Norway were able to create an oil fund. Some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies operate in the Scottish waters such as Shell and BP, without the state controlling the oil companies operating there an oil fund seems very distant, if not impossible.

Continued exploitation of fossil fuels leads to more flooding
Turning back to Prime Minister Cameron, last week he visited flood hit areas of the South West of England, areas that have experienced the worst of the UK flooding, in a wet winter that have broken several weather records. This winter has been the wettest since records began and the Met Office have even admitted the link to climate change. Mr Cameron himself has angered Conservative climate sceptic backbenchers by saying that he did believe that our weather is becoming more extreme and that he believes that is due to climate change. Quite ironic then that he, the following week, is touring Scotland’s oil and gas platforms and promising tax breaks for the sector responsible for flooding and climate change and pledging that the government are right behind the industry for decades to come.

As the continuation of burning fossil fuels is creating extreme weather events such as the flooding plains in Somerset in the South West of England, we simply have to stop the drilling and the exploiting of yet more of those climate change creating fossil fuels. We must stop basing economic growth on fossil fuels as it’s both unsustainable and a very risky economic model; energy experts and economists are finally starting to see that and it’s time Mr Cameron and his government do too.

The next wave in the industrial revolution is coming
We have seen several economic waves since the Industrial Revolution started in England around 1750. Beginning with the steam engine to the technology age in 1970’s and now many experts, economists and analysts are predicting we’re about to see another wave: the Green Revolution wave. The wave that would create a surge in technologies that we would need in the future to tackle climate change, but also putting the infrastructure in place that would replace fossil fuels such as smart grids, smart meters, tackling efficiency and so on. At the heart of the next wave of the industrial revolution would also be: how we can develop in a cleaner way, lifting countries out of poverty without using fossil fuels.

Renewables and not fossil fuels should be at the heart of the independence debate

It’s not my intention to get involved in whether Scotland should go for independence or not, I will let that be decided by the people of Scotland. But if you’re looking for an economic growth plan that could give Scotland independence, then you have to look no further than to Scotland’s deployment of renewable energy and its potential to add even more. Some experts even suggest that if Scotland were to gain independence over 50% of their electricity would come from renewables – now here is something for Salmond to champion and equally Cameron to be worried about, because an independent Scotland would make it difficult for the UK to meet their renewable energy targets as most of UK installed renewable capacity are installed in Scotland.

Sub edited by Charlotte Paton

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Categories: AndersLorenzen, Oil, Scotland

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