Shell’s North Sea oil U-turn: ‘a first victory in a longer war’?

Controversy after oil giant pulls out of proposed Cambo project

Activists holding sign reading 'Stop Cambo'
Activists protest the proposed Cambo oilfield project on 11 November
(Image credit: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

How times change, said Ross Clark in The Spectator. For decades, the SNP traded on the idea that “Scotland’s oil” would make an independent Scotland rich. But now Nicola Sturgeon’s party, with its Green coalition partner, has turned its back on fossil fuels.

Last month, Sturgeon stated that the proposed Cambo oilfield off the coast of Shetland, which holds an estimated 800 million barrels of oil, “should not get the green light”, on the grounds that it “could not and should not pass any rigorous climate assessment”.

And last week Shell, which had a 30% share in the project, pulled out, claiming that “the economic case for investment” was no longer “strong enough”. It was an odd conclusion, when oil is at a hefty $70 per barrel. A more credible explanation is that it decided a new North Sea oilfield was “a political liability”.

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This is bad news for us all, said Reaction. If Britain’s oil and gas industry fails to keep up production, with the transition to green energy still years away, we’ll face either fuel shortages or rocketing bills for imported energy, or both. The UK still relies on oil and gas for 73% of its energy needs. In “green” Scotland, it’s 78%.

On the contrary, Shell’s U-turn was excellent news, said The Guardian: the North Sea’s oil must be kept “in the ground”. Realistically, though, this was only “a first victory in a longer war”. Cambo’s other investors will want to proceed, and there are “dozens more offshore oil and gas fields coming up for approval in the next three years”. To limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C, “none ought to go ahead”.

Unfortunately, even if the oil giants have “lost the battle for public opinion in Scotland”, Westminster has the final say on oil and gas licensing; and Boris Johnson’s Government still wants “extractive industries to suck the seabed dry”.

The “cavernous difference” between Westminster and Holyrood on this issue is another spur to independence, said Abbi Garton-Crosbie in The National. Yes, Sturgeon showed “leadership” by listening to climate activists, but with the UK Government in control, we will never be able to break the hold of fossil fuels, and set out on the path to net zero.

That will be easier said than done, whoever is in control, said The Herald. The fact is “fossil fuels cannot be magicked out of the wider economy with the stroke of a pen”. Homes will still need to be heated; industry will still need gas and coal. Around 120,000 UK jobs are directly tied to oil and gas, many of them in northeast Scotland. If we are to minimise “the casualties of the green revolution”, we must begin “transferring engineering skills” at a rate that matches “the fine speeches” on the subject.

Britain’s reliance on imported energy has doubled in the past decade, partly as a result of declining North Sea production, said The Times. “Accelerating that process without a corresponding investment in alternatives is poor economics, poor politics and poor environmentalism.”

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