North Sea oil and gas: the elephant in the room

Next week Extinction Rebellion will start two weeks of protest in London, demanding government action to reach zero carbon emissions by 2025; to protect biodiversity; to tell the truth about climate change; and to set up “citizens’ assemblies” to address the climate and ecological emergency.

This post by NEIL ROTHNIE is addressed to the XR “rebels” and their supporters. Neil is active in Extinction Rebellion Glasgow. He is now retired, having spent his working life on the North Sea, in the oil industry

It’s not just Westminster! The Scottish government are also complicit in a strategy that will see the UK oil and gas industry continuing to explore and produce every single drop of the 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent (bbls) thought to be recoverable from North Sea oil and gas fields.

The plan, “business as usual”, comes from big oil and has been handed down to their clients in Government. And it drives a horse and carriage through government

Rigs operated by BP at the Clair Ridge oil field, west of Shetland in the North Sea, which started producing in November last year. Its peak output will be 120,000 barrels of oil per day, and BP reckons it has 640 million barrels of recoverable hydrocarbons

“climate emergency” declarations, and any chance of meeting our fair share of global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

It also sends out a clear message to other national governments collaborating with the very same oil corporations which operate globally.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Saudi Arabia, The Canadian Arctic, Nigeria, Sakhalin Island (Russia), everywhere else – industry and Governments will feel absolutely justified to exploit their reserves to the limit, just as UK Governments intend to do.  Produce every last drop until the planet burns or the people rebel.

Well, the rebellion starts here.

There must be non violent direct action aimed at big oil, and targeting oil production. There must be a Just Transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

That doesn’t just mean that oil workers in the global north get new jobs in a hugely expanded renewables sector.

It means that the global north takes the bulk of the responsibility for ending fossil fuel production, and does not continue to penalise the countries of the global south who have had little opportunity to consume the world’s fossil energy resources.

As energy consumption shrinks in the North, countries in the global south must be allowed to use their fare share.

Taking responsibility, for us in the UK, means first and foremost confronting the global oil corporations and their clients (our governments) about their plans for the North Sea that is the source of 90% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions.[1]

These are the only greenhouse gases that we can directly affect in a non violent fashion. And we must, however difficult that task seems. And remember, it’s the same distance from London to Aberdeen as it is from Aberdeen to London.

It’s true – confronting big oil is a big ask. It will require the sort of mobilisation that sees us confronting their client Government in Westminster.

Forget about what the Chinese or the Americans will or will not do.  The only way we can possibly affect that is by doing what we can do to shut down our oilfields, and have confidence that fellow rebels around the globe will be inspired and take on their own polluters with as much help as we can offer them.






► Climate Catastrophe = Global warming = carbon emissions = fossil fuels

► On our patch “fossil fuels” means North Sea oil and gas (the source of 90% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions).

Question: What do we want?

Answer: An end to oil exploration and production from the North Sea

Question: And the practical implications if we are able to shut down the North Sea?

Answer: We lead the world towards the only possible solution to climate catastrophe.

Question: Will this not be catastrophic for our economy?

Answer: Climate catastrophe means no economy anywhere.

Question: Is there an alternative to a fossil fuel economy?

Answer: Yes!  Renewables!

Question: Can renewable energy fully replace fossil energy?

Answer: Who knows?  We’ll have plenty of ex-oil workers to give it our best shot.

Question: Is that it?

Answer: No!  This will give us the time and space to build a future along completely different lines to a past that has led us to this existential crisis.

□ We can’t go on desecrating the environment in the name of profit.

□ We can’t go on destroying the world’s forests and seas.

□ We can build a regenerative society that respects life as more than something to be just exploited for the benefit of “profit” (which won’t stop the super rich disappearing along with the rest of us).

□ But none of this is remotely possible if we continue (as is the plan of UK and Scottish Governments) to aim for the complete draining of North Sea reservoirs.

Question: Do you think we can go on producing North Sea Oil and Gas?

Answer: you tell us. Extinction Rebellion@ wherever


More about the campaign for just transition on the North Sea here: Scot.E3 (employment, energy and environment)

Art Not Oil: Royal Shakespeare Company Drops BP

[1] Greenhouse gas emissions are measured in millions of tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e). In 2018, the UK produced 449 MtCO2e – that is 364 MtCO2e of carbon dioxide, and 85 MtCO2e of other greenhouse gases. Of that 364 MtCO2e, 330 MtCO2e (90%) was from oil and gas, the rest from coal and other fuels. Where does all that fuel go? 27% is used for energy supply (mostly, in gas-fired power stations), 33% for transport, 18% for business and 18% for homes. That’s all according to government statistics, downloadable here.

2 Responses to North Sea oil and gas: the elephant in the room

  1. sammibongo says:

    Fantastic article. Very clear. Thankyou

    There are a group of us (artist/activists) researching how big industry might solve the trans-oceanic travel conundrum

    We believe that sea going there will need to be a new generation of passenger liners built.

    Not cruise ships but mass transport.

    We are initiating a project exploring how we might engage the ship owners and ship building industry

    We believe that slow travel is the answer and we expect that the changes to how and why we will travel need to be anticipated and the appetite for this form of travel needs to be demonstrated

    We would really appreciate any advice, suggestions and criticism of our plan.

    We have a 6 page summary of our research and plans if you, or anyone you might know, would like to have a quick read

    All the best

    Keep it up


  2. […] North Sea oil and gas: the elephant in the room – People & Nature, October 2019 […]

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