EU Referendum

Energy: the insanity of the Guardian


It is very much a feature of the media that some of the most important stories get the least attention – t'was ever thus. But the news that Royal Dutch Shell had scrapped plans to develop the North Sea Cambo oilfield is a major event.

Reuters noted that the field, situated off the Shetland Isles, had become a "lightning rod" for climate activists who had been seeking to halt all development of oil and gas resources. And now, it looks as if Shell has given up the unequal struggle.

Following "comprehensive screening" of the field – which could potentially yield hundreds of millions of barrels of oil - it has "concluded the economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time, as well as having the potential for delays".

This doesn't necessarily mean the end of the project though. Shell is only a 30 percent minority partner. The private equity-backed Siccar Point Energy owns a majority stake and, for the moment, is to continue the development.

However, it didn't take the Guardian to get on the case, gleefully announcing that Shell's "U-turn" on Cambo "could mean end for big North Sea oil projects", noting that private companies don't typically have the track record in project development which Shell brought to the table.

Furthermore, despite Siccar Point's determination to continue, the paper cites anonymous "industry sources" who say will struggle to find new partner to take on Shell’s stake in the oilfield. Therefore, it believes Shell's decision could sound the "death knell", not only for this project, but all large-scale North Sea projects.

According to the Guardian, the trigger for Shell's decision to scrap the project was the government's insistence that the company would need to meet certain "climate concessions" to win approval for the development.

It was following this that the company decided that the "economic case for investment" was not strong. But this had been on top of the UK regulator's "unexpected" decision to decline Shell's application to develop a separate North Sea project at the Jackdaw field.

There is now "a huge amount of uncertainty" around the government's support for new oil and gas development in the North Sea, a situation which environmental campaigners are keen to exploit.

Caroline Rance, speaking for Friends of the Earth Scotland, says: "Both the UK and Scottish governments must now officially reject Cambo, say no to any future oil and gas developments in UK waters and get on with planning a fair and fast transition for people working in this industry".

But this is nothing compared with the stern line from the Guardian. In yesterday's editorial, it exhorts the government to keep North Sea oil "in the ground", stating that "Britain won't convince anyone else to ditch fossil fuels when it won't do so itself".

It expresses the hope that the decision by Shell to pull out of the Cambo oilfield does in fact mark the end of oil and gas investment in the North Sea. "for planet's sake". Nevertheless, it thinks it more realistic to see the act as "a first victory in a longer war to keep hydrocarbons in the ground".

It accuses, in lurid terms, the UK government of wanting extractive industries "to suck the seabed dry" and complains that it has failed to join an alliance of nations – led by Denmark and Costa Rica, and including France and Ireland – which have set an end date for oil and gas production and exploration. Instead, Johnson "will allow companies to keep exploring the North Sea for new reserves".

For a moment, one has to do a double-take here. This is not some wild rag from an extremist environmental campaign group, but a supposedly responsible national newspaper. And even by its own measure, what the paper is supporting is barking mad.

It recognises, for instance, that even if the world achieves "net zero" emissions (which it won't), it will not mean the end of oil and gas. The International Energy Agency (IEA), we are told, projects that if the world reached the goal by 2050, it would still be using nearly half as much natural gas as today and about one-quarter as much oil.

This would mean, it says, that as the UK constrains its domestic fossil fuel output, wealthy Gulf states that can produce oil cheaply will increase their market share. It would also see Moscow's significance to Europe’s energy security rise before it falls.

As if this was not bad enough, the paper makes no attempt to explain to its readers what will happen between now and 2050, with the UK winding down its offshore industry, long before alternative provisions are in place.

Even yesterday, as darkness fell and solar energy fell off the edge, wind power dropped to less then 10 percent of the energy generation mix, and fossil fuels were taking nearly 60 percent of the overall load.

Even if nuclear can be ramped up significantly – which looks unlikely, even by 2050 – the intermittent nature of renewables (wind and solar) will remain. Even a doubling or tripling the wind fleet would not support today's demand, much less the massively increased demand which comes with the decarbonisation agenda.

To close down the North Sea, therefore, would leave the UK in an even more perilous position than it is at the moment, having to import massive amounts of natural gas to keep the lights on, as well as the oil to sustain the transport industry which will be relying on fossil fuels well past the 2050 cut-off.

All of this, though – in the Guardian's book is directed towards the UK "setting an example", to which effect it wants us to enter a new era of energy poverty in the hope that alternative technologies will catch up. Without that, it says, "It is hard to see how Britain will convince anyone else to ditch fossil fuels when it won’t do so itself".

With the UK producing less than one percent of the global CO2 emissions, though, the only way it can have an impact is to hope that the rest of the world does follow its example, but to expect that is beyond the barking mad. It verges on the insane.

Already, the governments of both Indian and China have made it abundantly clear that they will do what it takes to keep the lights on, and that includes expanding their coal generation fleets, while also fuelling the growth of the car numbers.

Looking at the bigger picture, though, what we see is an example of a newspaper which has sold its soul to the climate change cult, just as it seems the global temperature is insisting on showing signs of declining, while different parts of the globe are breaking records for new temperature lows.

For those who are interested in such things, there are indications that we are approaching significant period of minimum sunspot activity, compatible with the phenomenon known as the Maunder Minimum, triggering a "little ice age". The last time this happened, between 1645 and 1715, the Thames routinely froze over and Londoners were enjoying hog roasts under London Bridge.

The prospect of a repeat is roundly dismissed by the current batch of high priest of the climate cult, who stick to their mantra that the 2.225 percent of man-produced carbon dioxide, of the 0.04 percent of the total in the atmosphere, is set to bring us to the end of times.

Anyone with a reservoir of sanity though – which clearly does not include the staff of the Guardian, or even members of this government – might like to hedge their bets. By 2050, when the full extent of "net zero" is due to kick in, we could be celebrating the event with ice-barbies on the Thames once again.

In the meantime, as average temperatures slide inexorably downwards – as they show every sign of doing – I almost pity the government officials tasked with persuading us to dispense with our gas boilers. Some may find what it is like to wear a heat pump.

Also published on Turbulent Times.