The UK’s government’s recent announcements regarding the North Sea industry sum up the current energy industry conundrum. To be honest, it’s not a conundrum to me – it makes perfect sense to commit to both the energy transition (most recently in the form of CCUS and the Acorn Project) and energy security (with 100 new licenses announced).
For me, that’s a welcome reality check for those who are determined to undermine the oil and gas industry. And with much of the conversation around this being fairly high level, it occurred to me that even with this recent licensing announcement and the acknowledged need for energy security, there aren’t many who are willing to stand up for the oil and gas industry at what you might call its more “day-to-day” level.
Yes, there are plenty who will agree with me and point out that this is an energy transition, not an instant “turning off” of fossil fuel energy. However.
What we don’t often hear is a realistic acknowledgement of the positives within the industry, which have impacted so many. The road to net zero seems to have made it almost a stigma to be positive and document the benefits this industry has brought us. Given that so many of those positives have touched the lives of thousands and thousands, I thought I’d detail a few of them here…
The economic benefits
There is nothing like the oil and gas industry for getting you thinking on your feet. It’s always been a “sink or swim” business and many people thrive in that environment, with their passion driving others on. OK, that’s not for everyone, but as an industry focused on keeping the lights on and rewarding people for their hard – and often hazardous – work, this industry has had a huge impact on the UK economy, from the treasury right down to the local high street. That can be incredibly satisfying.
As an article in The Times recently confirmed, the oil and gas sector generated about £4 billion for Aberdeen’s economy in 2019, and the city is responsible for some 80 per cent of employment in the UK’s oil and gas sector. Most of you reading this will easily be able to think of examples where our local retail, hospitality and leisure trades are sustained by the outcomes of oil and gas and have positively impacted your own community.
The work ethic
As I mention above, an outstanding work ethic is one particular on-going legacy of the oil and gas industry. I’ve worked in other industries - as have several of the ENERPRO team - and we also count a number of clients from the non-offshore industry.
What we can all say, hand-on-heart, is that there is no industry where the drive for efficiency and adherence to the highest of safety standards is more prevalent. The challenging market conditions of the last decade in particular, have seen the industry become ever more efficient from a time and cost perspective, and when transferred to any other industry, that approach creates results that are outstanding.
The oil and gas industry is harsh, it’s dirty - we know that. However, if you recall just a handful of years back, the nuclear industry - which is now tipped as one of the more realistic clean energy options - was much more vilified than it was supported. And I know that from personal experience within that industry.
What I’m trying to say here is that perceptions constantly shift and whilst of course, we must move towards a cleaner future, I wonder if fossil fuels will end up playing a larger – albeit carbon reduced – role for significantly longer than currently thought, particularly in frontier oil and gas regions.
The amount of technological and behavioural development taking place in the North Sea is having a significantly positive impact upon carbon reduction. The industry is making huge strides in ensuring all operations both offshore and onshore are ever-more efficient, and that experience will, I hope, assist in helping developing fossil fuel regions to leapfrog the carbon intensive methodologies, whilst inspiring other producing regions to follow our suit.
An honest, pragmatic approach
And so, whilst we recognise the energy transition as we all work hard to become cleaner and support projects on that basis, ENERPRO will continue to support the oil and gas industry today, and for many years to come. As demands change, so will our services, but for now we’re keeping a realistic view of the future of oil and gas.
I love listening to and respecting others’ opinions - this is how we learn - and my own opinion is that whilst emissions must be lowered for the future of humankind, equally we cannot support a wholesale denigration of the oil and gas industry, whilst there is still so much work to be done in transitioning to cleaner energy.
We mustn’t forget the benefits in technological advances and standards in safety and efficiency, which have been the direct result of the oil and gas industry, as well as the fundamental fact that many of the skills and capabilities developed are having, and will continue to have, a significant impact upon the development of renewable energy. What’s more, these skills are so transferable and can have real influence across countless other industries.
We don’t have to turn our backs on the oil and gas industry – it would be unsustainable and unfair to its heritage for us to do so. As does any company active in the energy industry, we have a responsibility to our staff, our clients, our suppliers and to the general public – and that’s a responsibility that demands an honest, pragmatic approach to the industry’s evolution.