North Sea Oil & Gas Are Out, Environmentalism or Not

a north sea drilling platform, parked ashore, with wind turbines peppering a hill in the distance

In this UK general election there is a lot of disagreement over what should be done about north sea oil and gas development in the UK.

I’ve been thinking though, if you don’t believe or care in climate change, or even if you believe is is an issue but think it is low priority, there is no sense in continuing to pursue fossile fuel. They’re fast becoming uneconomical regardless of the environmental impact.

We are already approaching peak oil. This is the point where we reach maximum demand and start to phase out our oil production and use. The fact that alternatives to fossil fuels exist mean this is inevitably going to happen, sooner or later.

Though initial outlay costs were a lot higher than fossil fuel alternatives, the cost of like solar installations falling fast. Day to day running from renewable energy is incredibly cheap, at times market electricity prices even becoming negative. Given how cheap it is to generate your own energy, the convenience offered by fossil fuels starts to become difficult to weigh up against renewables. When fossil fuel energy becomes an avoidable rent, no business nor consumer will want to buy into that if they can avoid it.

So purely in terms of cost, renewables are the way forward. And given how cheaply they can generate energy, the opportunity for growth now comes from renewable production, installation, and in secondary energy sectors like storage and transmission. This is a key area to watch because if costs are negative, generators get free energy for themselves, while storers and transmitters get a cheap source of energy they can sell to clients with high energy needs, such as heavy industry. As battery and transmission technology evolves, this becomes ever more easy to do. Fossil fuel energy simply can’t compete with this and slowly businesses and consumers are seeing this and adapting. A bit too slowly for my taste, but it is happening.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of politicians in the UK (and globally) that insist on policy that supports fossil fuel energy. We still subsidise the sector, when we don’t need to, which is a drain on public spending allocations. And every time a politician makes policy that supports the industry we are encouraging young people starting their careers to enter training or a job that isn’t going to offer long term security, wasting their potential and risking their wellbeing.

Those currently employed in the carbon energy sector should keep their jobs, and run them out for the time that we still need oil and gas. But we can’t be doubling down on new developments, as there just isn’t enough demand and we will be setting them up for failure.

Fair transitions, to ensure that communities and individuals don’t suffer needs to be slow. The shocks from the coal mine shutdowns experienced in the UK happened because the transition was fast. Unfortunately because we have dragged our feet for so long, that “fair transition” away from north sea fossil fuels will happen faster, and cause more harm. Every time a politician reinforces the idea we can delay the inevitable, it only increases the harm that will eventually be done to communities that previously centred around carbon energy. Despite the finger pointing, the harm done to communities will not be the environmentalist’s fault. It will be the fault of all those politicians that failed to foresee, or chose not to act against, the inevitable decline of an industry that has never been able to play fairly.

So even putting the green environmentally progressive attitude aside, the economic risk of continuing to support fossils fuels should alone be reason to give up on carbon energy. And the sooner we start, the better off everyone else will be.


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