North Sea oil and gas: the elephant in the room

October 4, 2019

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 Read the rest of this entry »

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Battlegrounds of Labour’s Green New Deal

September 30, 2019

The Green New Deal policy passed by the Labour conference at Brighton last week was among the most far-reaching attempts by any big political party to face up to the climate and ecological emergency.

The conference urged a future Labour government to “work towards a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2030”, guaranteeing “an increase in good unionised jobs” and ensuring that the cost is “borne by the wealthiest, not the majority”.

It also called for “public ownership of energy, creating an integrated, democratic system”, including “public ownership of the Big Six [electricity generating companies]”.

The resolution (text here) was passed on 24 September by an overwhelming majority, with support from trade unions including Unite and Unison.

A separate resolution supported by the GMB union and urging decarbonisation as fast as possible –

green new deal banner

At the 20 September Climate Strike in London. Photo by Steve Eason

but without the 2030 target – was also passed. That amounts to a “challenge to the Labour party and its grassroots activists to come up with a concrete plan to meet the 2030 target”, the journalist Ellie Mae O’Hagan argued.

More than 128 Constituency Labour Parties sent in motions on the Green New Deal – more than on any other topic – after a whirlwind campaign by Labour For A Green New Deal (LGND).

This is an important shift, forced by the upsurge of radical climate protest. No coincidence that it came straight after the school students’ global “climate strike” on 20 September.

The aims of these resolutions will not be achieved without conflict – not only with energy companies, but also with senior Labour politicians and union bosses who talk green but support carbon-heavy policies.

The Labour leadership’s existing energy policy was crafted in part to avoid conflict with these powerful interests. In the electricity sector, it is committed to nationalise networks, but not generation (i.e. Read the rest of this entry »


Making decentralised electricity work for all of us

September 30, 2019

Decentralised electricity is on its way in, like it or not. Networks managed by “smart” technology, supplied by renewable sources and other small-scale power stations, can only expand.

Systems centred on ever-larger coal-, gas- or nuclear-fired power stations, completely dominant fifty years ago, will decline in many countries from now on – although they will not go quietly.

Social and labour movements had better take notice. If we don’t make this technological change work for people, energy corporations will make it work for profit.

And those corporations are paying close attention. “The centralised model of power production is dying”, Mark Boillot, a senior vice president of Électricité de France, one of Europe’s largest electricity

In the Akermanbogan estate in Munich, Germany, solar thermal roofs have been linked to a sealed (and landscaped) reservoir that supplies several apartment blocks, cutting heating bills in half. Surpluses are “pooled” within their district heating network. Photo from The Transformation Moment by Alan Simpson

companies, said recently. It will be “replaced by local solar and wind, supplemented by batteries and intelligent management of supply and demand”.

Labour Party policy

In the UK, the Labour party conference last week called for a Green New Deal; rapid expansion of renewables generation, and taking the “big six” energy companies into public ownership, would be key elements.

This cuts across current Labour electricity policy, set out in the Bringing Energy Home document published earlier this year: to extend public ownership only to the transmission (high-voltage) and distribution (low-voltage) electricity networks, plus networks that supply gas to homes for cooking and heating. Generation of electricity (power stations, wind farms, and so on), and supply (the marketing of the electricity to users) will stay in private hands.

The conference’s stance, if translated into policy, would potentially be much better suited to making electricity decentralisation work for us all.

In Bringing Energy Home, Labour acknowledged that decentralisation is “inevitable”, but warned: “decentralisation within a liberalised framework risks exacerbating inequalities”. It continued:

Though decentralisation may create some initial space for community-run cooperatives, it risks primarily expanding the private sector and strengthening the dominant market logic, creating the conditions to squeeze out community-owned companies.

Data-focused companies such as Amazon and Google are moving into energy, the document warned, and “a decentralisation process dominated by tech giants will leave both workers and communities disempowered”. This disempowerment is a very real threat, to which co-operatives and other Read the rest of this entry »


XR call for just transition from North Sea oil to renewable energy

September 5, 2019

Extinction Rebellion (XR) Scotland is appealing to North Sea oil workers to support a “just transition” away from oil and towards an energy system based on renewable electricity.

“The current oil and gas workforce can and should be redeployed to replace the fossil fuel that we can no longer afford to produce”, says XR Scotland’s appeal to communities in the north-east of the country that are dependent on oil. “Without a just transition to renewable energy from sun, wind and wave, we are fucked.”

There’s no better way forward for XR than seeking alliances of this kind, in my view. So here’s the whole text of the leaflet. (And if you want to print some off and distribute them yourself, here’s a PDF version.)

Do you think you have skills that could be transferred to the renewables energy industry? YES □ NO □

Do you think that the entirety of the estimated 20 billion barrels of fossil fuel under the North Sea should be produced? YES □ NO □

Do you believe the planet can survive global hydrocarbon reservoirs being drained? YES □ NO □

XR protest. Photo from XR Scotland facebook page

Do you have children and/or grandchildren? YES □ NO □

Did you think last year, that we would be experiencing a massive fire threat to the Amazon and the Arctic regions, and the loss of the Arctic Sea ice? YES □ NO □

Are you interested in getting involved in the campaign for a planned and just transition to the renewables?

contact neil.rothnie@gmail.com. I’ll put you in touch.

Demand a Just Transition to renewable energy

Both the UK oil industry and government seem to think that new licenses should be issued and oil and gas exploration on the North Sea stepped up. The industry estimates that 20 billion barrels of fossil fuel remain under the North Sea. No one in authority seems to think that these reserves should not be fully exploited.

This begs the questions:

► If a policy of business as usual is to be applied to the North Sea, why then should Saudi Arabian, Gulf of Mexico, Venezuelan, Sakhalin [Russia], Nigerian and other hydrocarbon reserves not also be fully exploited?

► What would the effect of producing all the world’s oil and gas be on global warming and climate change?

The Scottish Government seem to be prepared to try and lead us to an independent Scotland based on a carbon economy. According to the First Minister, Scotland’s carbon emissions would increase if oil Read the rest of this entry »


What does “climate emergency” mean? Let’s define that OUTSIDE parliament

May 2, 2019

Strikes by school pupils, and civil disobedience by Extinction Rebellion, pushed the UK’s House of Commons into declaring a “climate emergency” yesterday. The government is so weak and divided that – having said one week ago that it would not make such a declaration – it caved in and lined up behind a motion put by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Tories’ weakness really is part of this. The prime minister, Theresa May, lost the ability to tell her MPs how to vote on anything, during repeated breakdowns of their traditional

School pupils on strike in Australia. Photo from #climatestrike on twitter

discipline over Brexit. And the “climate emergency” vote took place on the day that she fired her defence secretary Gavin Williamson for breaching security.

And the movements outside parliament made the difference. The Labour MP Faisal Rashid pointed out during the debate: “We are not here because of an international effort co-ordinated by world leaders. […] We are here because a small group of schoolchildren decided to walk out of school to take a stand against climate change, and they have inspired a global movement.” It is “an indictment of our global political leadership”, he argued.

Another reason the “climate emergency” motion passed is that it committed neither the government nor parliament to do a single thing. It could be, and was, supported by many total hypocrites as a way of co-opting and defusing people’s anger.

Anyone who thinks that parliament actually meant what it said, when it voted for Corbyn’s motion, should bear in mind that:

■ Parliament believes it can declare a “climate emergency” while supporting a third runway at Heathrow Airport. That will help ensure a global expansion of aviation, which is Read the rest of this entry »


Prisoners of a frack-friendly establishment

September 27, 2018

The British establishment is stepping up its deranged assault on anti-fracking protesters. How else can we interpret the 15-16 month jail sentences handed out yesterday at Preston Crown Court to three peaceful protesters?

Simon Roscoe Blevins (26), Richard Roberts (36) and Richard Loizou (31) were convicted in August of causing a public nuisance. They took part in a four-day direct action that blocked a convoy of tricks carrying drilling equipment from entering the Preston New Road fracking site near Blackpool, operated by Cuadrilla.

The judge, Robert Altham, made clear the political nature of his decision in court yesterday. He said he thought the three men posed a risk of reoffending, and could not

Anti-fracking protesters (l-r) Rich Loizou, Richard Roberts and Simon Roscoe-Blevins, outside Preston Crown Court with supporters before sentencing

be “rehabilitated” – because “each of them remains motivated by an unswerving confidence that they are right.”

He added: “Even at their trial they felt justified by their actions. Given the disruption caused in this case, only immediate custody can achieve sufficient punishment.”

The judge’s vindictive sentencing is squarely in line with a small section of the UK Read the rest of this entry »


Memo to Labour. Let’s have energy systems integration for the many

May 17, 2018

The UK electricity system needs “radically different forms of grid planning and operation” if it is to stop using fossil fuels, researchers at the Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College argue in a briefing paper published last month.

“A whole systems approach is required, in which one single party has responsibility for optimising technical performance across the system”, Richard Hanna and his colleagues say in the paper, entitled Unlocking the Potential of Energy Systems Integration (see p. 24).

The briefing paper outlines the technological potential for moving away from fossil fuels by integrating and decentralising energy systems, using, mainly, smart computers and cutting-edge

An integrated system will make it practical and possible for solar panels to go on many roofs

methods of switching between forms of energy. It summarises, in language comprehensible by a general readership, the findings of a big pile of technical reports and research articles by engineers.

I hope the Energy Futures Lab’s findings will be read by everyone interested in putting together socialist approaches to the transition away from fossil fuels: trade union militants in the energy sector, climate campaigners, eco-socialists, and so on. In particular, I hope they will be taken into account by those discussing energy and environment policies for the Labour Party in the UK.

Only by putting the technological transformation of energy production and consumption at the centre of our discussions will be able to work out how we can best change the ownership of, and control over, the system. We need to challenge the corporate control of the technologies, and make Read the rest of this entry »


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