If stopping Cambo increases dirtier imports, what's the point? - Brian Wilson

Nicola Sturgeon has informed the nation that the Cambo project “should not get the green light”. Semanticists must divine whether that preserves wriggle-room from saying it should be refused, full stop.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has faced a backlash over her opposition to Cambo oil field, with her own footsoldiers in the North East among the dissenting voices. PIC: JPI Media.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has faced a backlash over her opposition to Cambo oil field, with her own footsoldiers in the North East among the dissenting voices. PIC: JPI Media.

Her footsoldiers are in revolt - or at least a platoon in the north-east beyond the Green Zone. Sturgeonomics risks a “Thatcherite decimation of an industry” with “jobs flung on the scrapheap”, warned Fergus Mutch, the SNP’s former head of communications.

“Before we seek to place a cap on domestic production we first need to address domestic demand and dramatically enhance both our renewable and carbon capture sectors,” declared Stephen Flynn MP, their Westminster energy spokesman.

Richard Thomson, the MP for Gordon, said Cambo “should be considered on an equal footing to any other new development in terms of balancing energy need with climate change impact”. And so on, a quite dizzying scale of resistance, not least for its uniqueness.

Of course, it could be attributed to the old chameleon nature of nationalism – say whatever they want to hear depending what part of the country you’re in. That doesn’t quite cut it these days, since Sturgeon has become so omnipotent in SNP policy making. Subsequent cries of “it wisnae us” will not cut much granite.

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So cometh the moment, cometh the man. Here is an opportunity for Ian Blackford to distinguishing himself by clarifying the position in the House of Commons next week. “Thatcherite decimation” or “no green light”? Which is it to be? The nation holds its breath.

For those who complain that I rarely agree with the SNP, let me be clear. Messrs Mutch, Flynn, Thomson et al are right. There is little point in banning developments in the North Sea if the net result is to increase our carbon footprint as well as throwing thousands of people out of work, in advance of there being anything to transition to.

This is where the superficiality of Ms Sturgeon’s intervention should be treated as embarrassing. It is not about Scotland’s environmental or energy needs or duties. Like everything else, it is a piece of political positioning, having read - or misread - the post-COP26 runes and decided which way to jump, maybe.

What evaluation has the Scottish Government done on relative impacts? Talking about “oil and gas” as if they are single products is nonsensical. The carbon footprint of any field depends on a host of considerations. If oil and gas from Cambo displaces imports with far worse carbon credentials in poorly regulated environments, what is the point?

Flaring, which is highly regulated in the North Sea, is a good example. A recent report pointed out: “The UK imports a significant amount of oil from some of the worst flaring offenders including the USA (22%), Algeria (9%), Russia (8%) and Nigeria (6%). The UK’s flaring intensity is substantially lower than these sources of imports so displacing them would clearly be climate-positive to the UK.

“Taking this argument further, at the peak of its production, Cambo will produce enough oil to displace roughly all the oil imported from Algeria, the third worst offender globally for flaring intensity, which is worsening year-by-year”. Anyone who dismisses that kind of argument, first must address it. I don’t think it will be Ms Sturgeon.

The decision on whether or not Cambo and other developments proceed should be evidence-led and not based on sloganising or political positioning. We have seen enough of that in the past, with entirely counter-productive consequences.

Our UK regulators are no patsies. Recently, they sent Shell packing with its plans for the Jackdaw field in the North Sea until they come back with better environmental solutions. Maybe we should place a bit of trust in them and accept an evidence-based conclusion without political spin.

I’m pretty sure developing in UK waters to serve our continuing needs for oil and gas, while linking offshore infrastructure to huge renewable developments, makes more sense than importing from four corners of the unregulated earth.

That, I’m afraid, is the real choice. So let’s give a red light to avoidable imports and the wholesale export of jobs.