Scotland owed carbon capture by UK after 'decades of Westminster reliance on North Sea oil'

The UK Government should U-turn on its decision not to back a key carbon capture project in Scotland due to the fact the country has “leaned heavily” on Scottish oil and gas reserves for decades, a senior Scottish Government figure has said.

Michael Matheson, the cabinet secretary for net zero, told The Scotsman the Scottish carbon capture cluster that includes the Acorn project in Aberdeenshire was key to a so-called ‘just transition’ away from oil and gas and towards renewables.

His comments coincide with an intervention from Nicola Sturgeon on the issue, with the First Minister writing to Boris Johnson demanding a U-turn.

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Michael Matheson MSP Net Zero and Energy Secretary was scathing about the decision not to award the Scottish cluster 'track one' status for carbon capture.Michael Matheson MSP Net Zero and Energy Secretary was scathing about the decision not to award the Scottish cluster 'track one' status for carbon capture.
Michael Matheson MSP Net Zero and Energy Secretary was scathing about the decision not to award the Scottish cluster 'track one' status for carbon capture.
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The SNP leader accused the UK Government of having “undervalued” key aspects of the Scottish bids, and echoed comments from Mr Matheson the Scottish Government stands ready to support the cluster should the UK Government collaborate.

Asked whether the Scottish Government would intervene and fund the Scottish cluster, Mr Matheson said the failure on behalf of the UK Government would be “potentially compromising” the transition away from fossil fuels for workers.

The concept of a just transition is based on the idea that workers should be aided with reskilling and changing jobs as employment in existing oil and gas industries disappear and new ones in the renewables sector begin to open.

The Scottish Government often uses the experience of industrial workers during the rapid deindustrialisation of Scotland during the Margaret Thatcher era and early 1990s as an example of what to avoid as the reliance on oil and gas reduces.

Mr Matheson also indicated the UK’s reliance on oil and gas reserves in the North Sea also meant it had to “demonstrate the commitment” to helping workers.

“The UK has leaned heavily on our oil and gas reserves over many decades,” he said.

"The Scottish cluster is key to helping to support a just transition for the oil and gas industry.

“A failure to support it in my view by the UK Government means they are potentially compromising the ability of delivering a just and fair transition in the oil and gas sector.

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“Which is why I think it is also a serious mistake on their part because they need to demonstrate the commitment that is necessary to oil and gas and those who work in oil and gas by supporting this, given they have leaned so heavily on the oil and gas sector over many decades.”

The net zero secretary also admitted the failure of the UK Government to back the cluster made Scotland’s aim of becoming net zero by 2045 “much more challenging”.

He said: “They become much more challenging and much more difficult to achieve given the importance of them.

“We only have to look at the evidence that was provided by the climate change committee, that it makes very clear that things like the Scottish cluster are ideal because of the ready-made storage facilities you have for carbon dioxide.”

He also criticised what he labelled a “disconnect” between the UK Government’s rhetoric and their policy.

Mr Matheson said: “The day following the decision not to include the Scottish cluster in track one, the UK Government published a net zero strategy within which they set out that they wanted to double the use of carbon capture, and the day before they made a decision that actually can’t even deliver on what their strategy was intending to achieve.

“This is a very good illustration of what COP26 cannot be about.”

Asked specifically whether the Scottish Government would fund the project in the absence of UK Government backing, the net zero secretary said an offer had been made the UK Government.

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He said: “I wrote to the UK Government last month and set out the Scottish Government is prepared to financially contribute towards supporting this project and we stand ready to provide financial assistance to it if it gets into track one.

“I don’t think I’ve had a response to that offer.”

Mr Matheson also criticised the lack of information provided to the Scottish Governmen about where the cluster now stands after it was awarded “reserve” status.

He said neither the cluster nor the government understood the meaning of the status, nor why the cluster was not chosen for full backing by the UK Government.

The UK Government states this means the cluster would be chosen for backing should one of the two clusters preferred during the bidding process stall or fail.

However, in a letter sent to Boris Johnson, Ms Sturgeon said the level of detail had “no clarity”.

She also questioned whether the cluster would receive financial support from the Treasury and whether it could rely on the UK Government as a lender of last resort.

Calling for the UK Government to U-turn, the First Minister wrote: “This is a pivotal moment for CCUS on our decarbonisation pathway and it requires a clear and coherent strategy to support UK-wide action on emissions reductions.

“To deliver on your climate change targets and ambitions, the UK Government should be funding all clusters capable of operating by the mid-2020s, including the Scottish cluster.

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“Now is the time to speed up, rather than slow down, activity in this area. This is a view shared with major industrial partnerships.”

Responding, a UK Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to making the UK a world-leader in green technology, including carbon capture. The Acorn project has already been allocated over £40 million in development funding by the UK Government in recent years, and we want to make sure the cluster can get maximum value from this support going forward.

“The strong potential of the Acorn project has been confirmed by the bidding process, which is just the start. This is good news for the future competitiveness of Scotland’s industry, and we are confident the Scottish cluster will continue to develop and compete for the next round of funding.“

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