Grangemouth oil refinery closure plan was no surprise, so lack of 'just transition' is worrying – Dr Richard Dixon
The announcement that the Grangemouth refinery is to close should not have been a surprise to anyone. It is the inevitable consequence of taking climate change seriously. This makes the apparent lack of preparation for this event doubly surprising.
The refinery has been jointly owned, since 2011, by Chinese state fossil-fuel company PetroChina and Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos, operating as Petroineos. At the height of the row about fracking in 2017, Ineos made its displeasure clear to the Scottish Government in no uncertain terms. But they were even more angry about the initial decision to ban sales of new petrol and diesel-powered cars and vans in 2032.
As soon as that announcement was made, the writing was on the wall for the refinery at Grangemouth. That should have been the point to start talking about redeploying the workforce and looking at ideas like plastics and battery recycling plants, and electric arc furnaces for steel making.
Because of pollution laws, the current refinery would have to cease operations by the mid-2020s but the official line from its owners had been that it would be “refurbished” to then go on to operate for many decades. In reality, the refurbishment would mean building a brand-new refinery. So the mid-2020s was always going to be a major decision point for the owners – to build a new refinery or give up refining.
Post-refinery plan for Grangemouth
Petroineos has maintained the line about a refurbishment for years, knowing all the while that the growth of electric vehicles would mean a sharp decline in the use of petrol and diesel even before any new plant had reached its tenth birthday. Given the eminently predictable end of refining at Grangemouth, surely the government should have exercised some leadership and started to think about the future of the site some time ago?
The good news is that it did. In 2020, it set up the Grangemouth Future Industries Board, comprising government agencies, the local council and Forth Valley College. The bad news is that it appears to have done nothing useful whatsoever.
The last public minutes of the group are from December 2022 when they didn’t discuss anything of any great relevance. A page on the Scottish Government website from July this year says the board’s 2023-24 priorities will be available soon… A just transition is something that needs to be planned with workers and the local community, yet neither group was consulted on the decision to close the refinery and neither of them sit at the Future Industries Board’s table.
When rumours surfaced in the middle of last year that PetroChina might want to scale back their investment, Scottish ministers said that a just transition plan was being created for the Grangemouth site. When the Scottish Government’s energy strategy and a just transition plan were published in January this year, there were some fine words about Grangemouth but nothing that could actually be called a plan.
We have had six years to come up with a decent plan for the future of Grangemouth but instead we have only a group that doesn’t include the right people and hasn’t met for nearly a year, and some grasping at straws about hydrogen production and carbon capture.
Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant
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