Amid threats from Putin, the UK government plans to increase oil and gas extraction in Northern Scotland to compensate for rocketing prices and a potential cut off from Russian supply, a decision i think holds more devastation than the optimistic outcome they had envisioned.
The North Sea is renowned for its oil production, with over 180 rigs and some of the largest oil fields in the world, it supplied 1.61 million barrels of oil per day in 2020 alone and that was one of its worst production years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, with the current issues surrounding Russia and Ukraine oil and gas prices are skyrocketing. With unleaded fuel reaching as high as £1.76 and diesel £1.99 per litre it is no wonder that anxiety levels over prices are rising too.
Fuel prices are not the only concern in the UK though, gas prices have also increased drastically the last few months. A combination of the Ukraine invasion and the change in the energy price cap allowing gas companies to increase bills by 54% from April is causing a surge of panic throughout the UK.
In response to the price hikes, the UK government is looking to solve the problem by opening two new oil and gas fields. The Abigail gas and oil field located east of Peterhead was quietly approved in January by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) even after significant backlash from climate experts who argued that opening a new field of any sort works against any and all current climate targets.
Friends of the Earth climate and energy campaigner, Caroline Rance said to the Guardian:
“The simple fact is that there is no such thing as a climate compatible oil and gas development. Climate science is crystal clear that burning fossil fuels is the key driver of the climate crisis and that there can be no new oil and gas fields anywhere in the world if we’re to limit warming to the 1.5C limit”
The second gas field is located off the coast of East Anglia and is expected to boost energy security in a time of crisis. With the UK relying on Russia for around 6% of its energy the government have been trying to plan a future for the UK that doesn’t require any reliance upon other countries for energy.
The new oil and gas production in the UK may seem like a quick and beneficial way to solve two problems at once, making the UK self-sufficient in energy production and usage while also stabilising prices for citizens. Yet, as perfect a solution it may seem the environmental impact would be extreme and as for solving the countries imminent rising prices this solution is a long-term plan, not a short term fix.
Nicola Sturgeon argued at first minister’s questions last Tuesday that expanding, let alone building new oil and gas fields was ‘not credible’ as a short-term solution since expansion of existing fields can take months or even years and new schemes take years of planning and developing, before there is any production. So, why the sudden scramble to build new oil fields? A multitude of events coinciding, like the energy price cap increasing and loss of imports is causing potential shortages and increases on prices of what can be imported.
These problems are not imminent but are already happening. Short term fixes would include introducing a windfall tax reducing the price cap to a reasonable threshold, like France who capped electricity increases to 4% and gas to 12.6%. As for reducing petrol prices a fuel duty reduction can be imposed, earlier this week Rishi Sunak introduced a 5p per litre discount. A secondary fix for petrol price reduction would be to freeze or lower VAT on petrol which would allow prices to normalise and become manageable.
However, opening new gas and oil fields are not the answer to these issues, as good as an energy independent future may sound opening or expanding existing fields would cause massive escalations in CO2 production, jeopardise any green initiatives in place, for example Scotland being carbon neutral by 2050 and would go against the Paris Agreement that was established at COP 21.
To say the government are grasping at straws in a time of crisis would be incorrect, in reality they are grabbing at money and overlooking the damage they could be implicating in the long run.
It reeks of hypocrisy to me.