A consultation closed at the weekend on beginning oil production from the Cambo field, 80 miles north-west of Shetland.  This one field has the potential to produce oil and gas that would result in ten times Scotland’s annual climate emissions.  Nearly 60,000 people have so far signed a petition calling for the plan to be scrapped.

Climate catastrophe

The UK government consultation is on an environmental assessment of the plans by Siccar Point Energy and Shell to produce oil over the next several decades from the Cambo field.  On the production side, figures in the assessment show that the development would be one of the least efficient in the European oil sector in terms of climate emissions released per barrel of oil produced, yet the UK Government and the industry already has a deal which is supposed to see these emissions falling.

On the use of the oil, the assessment makes the ridiculous claim that it is too hard to calculate the impact of the development on overall climate emissions.

The first phase of development aims to extract oil which will produce over 70 million tonnes of carbon dioxide when it is burnt.  That’s the equivalent of the annual emissions of eighteen new coal-fired power stations.  In future years, extracting all the oil in the field would release nearly six times as much, the equivalent of 10 years’ worth of Scotland current total emissions from all sectors.  The field is expected to operate up to 2050, five years after Scotland’s target to become net-zero emissions.

International stage

In May the International Energy Agency, not known for its radical thinking, concluded that climate change means there should be no more new oil and gas developments anywhere in the world if we are to have a hope of meeting the targets in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

This is all rather embarrassing for the UK Government which is trying to claim to be a climate leader going into the climate talks in Glasgow in November.  Having overruled local objections to approve the first new deep coal mine in 30 years in Cumbria, with a new gas-fired power station being discussed for Peterhead and now with likely approval for this new oil development, the UK is certainly not looking like it has left fossil fuels behind.

It’s also embarrassing for Shell, with a 30% stake in the development, who were ordered by a Dutch court in May to immediately start planning to reduce their climate emissions.

It is also problematic for the Scottish Government, whose policy is that any support for the oil industry would only be forthcoming if the sector is contributing to a ‘sustainable energy transition.’  This includes the transition out of fossil fuels and into renewables and energy efficiency.

So far the Scottish Government has been silent on the Cambo development but this could be the challenge that finally makes Ministers come off the fence.

If they support the development of the Cambo field then they cannot be serious about climate change.  If they are serious, and want to show they are more serious than the UK Government, they need to clearly say that developing this and any other new oil fields is not compatible with our climate change commitments.

Dr Richard Dixon is Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland. A version of this article appeared in The Scotsman on Thursday 15th July 2021.