Last week I wrote about the tough couple of weeks the oil industry have been having. Following the demise of the Cambo project, there were the two High Court challenges to the UK Government’s funding of oil and gas companies here and overseas.
There are the two research projects underway on the conflict between oil production and climate targets for both the Scottish Government directly and by their official advisors on climate. Earlier in the year both the UN and the International Energy Agency said that no new oil fields should be developed.
Rather predictably, this week business groups and the oil industry wrote an open letter to the Scottish party leaders calling for a pause so there can be a “reasoned debate” over the future of oil and gas.
The letter’s call for a pause is a blatant delaying tactic. What the industry has belatedly realised is that they are losing the argument badly and things are about to get serious.
There has already been plenty of debate.
We at Friends of the Earth have been working with the unions on a just transition for more than five years. We have published five reports on research looking at the transition, the views of workers, the barriers to the transition and future green job creation. The latter research found that strong investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency could create three times the number of jobs needing to be replaced.
The Scottish Government has had a Just Transition Commission looking at the issues for two and a half years, with industry represented on the commission and industry views sought out repeatedly by the commissioners.
The Scottish Government is creating the second version of this Just Transition Commission and it will move on from the theoretical look at the transition done by its predecessor and help the government actually deliver a transition. This includes contributing to the Just Transition Plan for the energy sector, due out in the spring and which will involve wide consultation with industry, workers, unions and affected communities.
The letter also says that calls for an end to new oil exploration have ‘shaken investor confidence.’ Confidence should not be shaken, it should have evaporated completely. Investing in new oil exploration should be as attractive as investing in making land mines or funding chemical weapons factories. It should be an obvious non-starter.
It is sometimes argued that it is the oil companies who should lead the transition because they are rich, already in place and have lots of skills. To my mind it is, in the main, the employees who have the skills and not the companies.
There is a good example out there. The Danish Oil and Natural Gas company gave up on fossil fuels and became the world’s largest developer of offshore wind power under their new name Ørsted.
However, on the evidence so far – this week’s delaying tactics, pretending that carbon capture will make it all ok and denying any responsibility for the emissions from the actual use of their products – the rest of the oil companies are the last people who could be expected to lead the transition that we so urgently need to get on with.
Dr Richard Dixon is Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland. A version of this article appeared in The Scotsman on 23 December 2021.