North Sea Oil, DECC and Climate Change

2012 February 2
by Chris Vernon

This week DECC (that’s the UK Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change) opened the 27th round of offshore petroleum licensing. This is a process of offering licences for offshore oil and gas exploration and production in the UK administered part of the North Sea.

photo: Creative Commons / Genghiskhanviet

The associated press release described this as “new opportunities for UK oil and gas exploration” … which “ensures the UK gets maximum benefit from our resources.” The Energy Minister Charles Hendry said “With around 20 billion barrels of oil still to be extracted, the UK Continental Shelf has many years of productivity left.”

Given the UK’s commitment to carbon dioxide emission reductions and the global agreement to limit warming to 2°C, do we need to spend time, money and energy exploring for more oil and gas to extract from the North Sea? If the limits imposed by the Earth system and our political system’s response establish a total amount of future emissions, isn’t it quite likely that existing, already discovered reserves of fossil fuels are more than sufficient? If in fact it would be very unwise to burn all the current reserves, why bother looking for more? George Monbiot made a similar point as the Government were approving new coal mines: Leave It In The Ground

It strikes me as odd, that neither the press release nor any of the other documentation associated with this new licensing phase even mentions the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production and inevitable combustion of the newly discovered oil and gas they are hoping for. This omission leaves DECC looking schizophrenic, with one hand attempting to meet onerous emission reductions whilst the other simultaneously desperately scratches out the last remaining fossil fuels available.

One Response leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012

    Hi Chris – I don’t find it odd at all. We talk about tackling the energy crisis, of which climate change is just one big, scary part, but we have no intentions of really reducing energy demand. How can we when all you hear is the desperate need for the economy to grow again? We haven’t, and I would argue we can’t, decoupled the economy from energy demand and while not many are saying it, renewables produce electricity and are not a solution for the liquid fuel crisis we’re in. Falling net energy returns rarely get a mention either, not to mention all the other natural resources with limits… (I know you know this, by the way!)

    The economic crisis has enabled people to put climate change on the back-burner. But as writer H.L. Mencken said, “It is the nature of the human species to reject what is true but unpleasant, and to embrace what is obviously false but comforting.” Like electric cars, I suppose. Isn’t it ironic that while this in-built optimistic trait might have aided our recent transition to ‘civilisation’, it now threatens us with extinction!

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