A raft of new fossil fuel developments being planned across Scotland will lock the country into polluting the climate for decades and help “fry the planet”, campaigners are warning.
The Ferret can reveal that companies are planning three major oil and gas plants at Grangemouth and Hunterston in the central belt, as well as drilling 100 wells and investing in up to 10 new oil fields in the North Sea.
This has prompted accusations that the industry is planning “business as usual”, with carbon emissions carrying on warming the climate and triggering wildfires, droughts, floods and storms across the globe.
The Scottish Government, which declared a climate emergency in April, is coming under mounting pressure to abandon its support for the fossil fuel industry. Four other countries have already banned new exploration for oil, and at least four more are considering the idea.
But in Scotland the fossil fuel giant, Ineos, has plans for a large new oil refinery to replace the ageing facility it runs at the Grangemouth petrochemical complex. It has notified Falkirk Council that it intends to apply for planning permission for a “refinery modernisation project to partially replace and upgrade the existing facility”.
The Scottish Government’s action programme for its third national planning framework says that “an application is expected in 2019 to replace existing plant with a new state of the art refinery complex” at Grangemouth. The plan has also been mentioned by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
The port company, Peel Ports, is planning a huge new liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal at Hunterston in North Ayrshire. The company’s 2019 masterplan for the site says the facility would have the capacity to store up to 5.5 million tonnes of LNG – which critics say would make it one of the largest in the world.
There are also fears that LNG will be imported across the Atlantic from US gas fracking fields. According to Peel Ports, the LNG would provide fuel for a new combined gas cycle turbine power station, also to be built at Hunterston.
The offshore oil and gas industry, in pursuit of its aim of “maximising economic recovery”, expects over 100 new development wells to be drilled and between eight and 10 new fields to receive investment approval in the North Sea in 2019. Some 37 licences were awarded to 30 companies to explore new areas for oil and gas in the latest UK offshore licensing round.
All these proposed developments have been condemned by environmentalists. “The world is on track for climate catastrophe, with more floods, storms, droughts and wildfires, the death of all our coral reefs and mass extinction of nature,” warned Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.
“A huge gas terminal, a refinery and a new gas-fired power station are clearly not projects Scotland should be contemplating if we are serious about the climate emergency. Any one of these proposals would lock us into climate emissions for many decades to come.”
We should not be looking for more oil in the North Sea when we already plan to take out more than enough to fry the planet. Dr Richard Dixon, Friends of the Earth Scotland
Dixon urged the Scottish Government to “firmly say no” to new fossil fuel developments and new oil exploration. “We should not be looking for more oil in the North Sea when we already plan to take out more than enough to fry the planet,” he said.
The Scottish Greens argued that Scotland should start a transition to a carbon-free future now without waiting for the oil and gas industry. “To expand the fossil fuel industry at this scale is to deny the overwhelming science which tells us we have only a decade to cut emissions,” said the party’s environment spokesperson, Mark Ruskell MSP.
“It ignores the forest fires, floods and droughts that are sweeping the planet. In the face of all the evidence, industry carries on business as usual, pursuing continuous growth.”
Ruskell urged Nicola Sturgeon to end oil exploration as other countries have done, in the run-up to the global climate summit in Glasgow next year. “This is the First Minister’s moment to make a stand,” he said.
In recent years New Zealand, France, Costa Rica and Belize have all passed laws banning new exploration for oil. Similar legislation is under consideration at various stages in Iceland, Sweden, Spain and Ireland.
Countries moving away from oil
|New Zealand||Passed a law in November 2018 banning any new exploration for offshore oil|
|France||Passed a law in December 2017 requiring oil and gas exploration and production on French territories to end by 2040|
|Costa Rica||Has banned oil exploration and is aiming to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2050|
|Belize||Passed a law in December 2017 banning any new exploration for oil in its waters|
|Iceland||Bill seeking to ban offshore oil exploration is on its way through parliament|
|Sweden||Legislation to ban oil and gas extraction and exploration expected in 2020|
|Spain||Previous government planned a law to ban new oil and gas extraction|
|Ireland||Parliament has backed a bill to ban oil and gas exploration in Irish waters|
In its programme for government on 3 September, the Scottish Government maintained its backing for the fossil fuel industry, but with a caveat. “Our continued support for oil and gas exploration and production in the North Sea will now be conditional upon a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition,” the programme said.
The following day the offshore oil and gas industry published a “blueprint for net zero” which promised to cut emissions during extraction and processing. This was “compatible” with the “drive to maximise economic recovery”, the industry claimed.
But these moves by government and industry have come under fire from critics. “When you’re in a hole, you need to stop digging – and that means no more fossil fuels,” said Greg Muttitt, research director of the climate and energy think tank, Oil Change International.
“Our research finds that a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition is possible only if companies stop developing new oil and gas fields.”
Muttitt co-authored a report, Sea Change, which argued that emissions from the 5.7 billion barrels of oil and gas in already-operating North Sea fields would breach the UK commitment to avoid dangerous climate change under the 2015 Paris agreement.
“New expansion is not consistent with the Paris climate goals, and would mean an urgent and abrupt shutdown when climate impacts ultimately force a political response,” he argued.
“The oil industry’s plan is to extract as much oil and gas as possible. The claim that this helps reduce carbon emissions is laughable.”
The simple fact is that oil is carbon-based, and producing more of it will make climate change worse. Greg Muttitt, Oil Change International
Muttitt accused the industry of going through “mental contortions” to claim it can offer net-zero oil. “The simple fact is that oil is carbon-based, and producing more of it will make climate change worse,” he said.
“The oil industry claims that Scottish oil is cleaner than other alternatives, so producing more can reduce emissions. This is simply not true.”
He was backed by Neil Rothnie, a retired oil worker and activist with the climate protest group, Extinction Rebellion Scotland. “Business as usual is exactly what the oil and gas industry is proposing in the face of an existential climate crisis driven by their product,” he said.
“There is amongst the public, a growing realisation that unrestrained fossil fuel production is not a viable future and that we need to transition to renewable energy just as in recent decades we transitioned from coal to gas.”
Scottish Youth Climate Strike, which is gearing up for a major protest on 20 September, criticised the Scottish Government for expanding the oil and gas industry. “In order to prevent irreversible and catastrophic damage to the climate and environment the government must take the issue of the climate emergency more seriously,” said the action group’s Neelu Saraswatibhatla.
The environmental organisation, WWF Scotland, called on the Scottish Government to use all its powers to halt the development of any new facilities that would cause carbon emissions for decades to come.
“We need to see concerted action by Scottish ministers to help end the age of fossil fuels through sustained investment to reduce energy demand,” said the group’s director, Lang Banks.
According to Scottish Government, Scotland was already recognised as a “world leader” in tackling climate change. “A strong domestic oil and gas industry and supply chain can play a positive role in supporting the low carbon transition,” said a government spokesperson.
“As we make the much needed transition to a net-zero economy, maintaining production will help ensure domestic production can meet ongoing demand in Scotland as well as meeting most of the UK’s needs.”
The spokesperson added: “If we were to stop domestic production right now, we would increase carbon emissions rather than lower them as we would have to import oil and gas from countries that don’t have the same level of regulation.”
Our blueprint for net zero offers a credible plan of action which shows how companies are taking steps to reduce emissions. Deirdre Michie, Oil and Gas UK
Oil and Gas UK (OGUK), which represents the offshore industry, pointed out that the government’s Climate Change Committee had forecast that the UK will still need oil and gas for up to a third of its primary energy in 2050.
“With oil and gas still a fundamental part of many of the products we use in our day to day lives and a vital fuel source for energy intensive industries, meeting our net zero ambitions will require a thoughtful response from every sector, business and individual,” said OGUK chief executive, Deirdre Michie.
“Our blueprint for net zero offers a credible plan of action which shows how companies are taking steps to reduce emissions, support low carbon technologies and improve the efficiency of our operations.”
Michie added: “The premature shutdown of the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry would only increase reliance on imports from across the world and realise none of the benefits of having a domestic industry – not least the hundreds of thousands of jobs, security of energy supply and the valuable contribution we continue to make to public services through taxation alone.”
This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.