Britain must never be beholden to foreign oil and gas companies | Prof John Ball

Sited where it is to save the world from an oil-driven catastrophe, it is a proper outrage that the government is busy blocking an effort to keep the UK independent of foreign oil. Across…

Britain must never be beholden to foreign oil and gas companies | Prof John Ball

Sited where it is to save the world from an oil-driven catastrophe, it is a proper outrage that the government is busy blocking an effort to keep the UK independent of foreign oil.

Across the year, our significant oil reserves hold the potential to keep Britain moving on a productive, secure basis for decades to come. They provide the reliable, stable future our industries so badly need and we have the expertise to exploit them.

Yet, in a moment of madness, our government is wrecking that future by trying to block the ownership of the next generation of gas and oil fields, by blocking Anadarko Petroleum from establishing a UK presence to exploit them.

Think tanks analysing the economic implications of the government’s actions have come to the same conclusion: Brexit is jeopardising Britain’s energy future.

On Wednesday, the European courts are expected to give their verdict in an earlier case by the energy company The Search for Common Ground. In that action, five groups of climate and environmental groups successfully challenged the UK government on the grounds that the government’s planning permission for the Cambo field, on the southern edge of the UK continental shelf, failed to give “due regard” to the potential environmental impact of such a giant reservoir.

The site of the Cambo field in the South Atlantic, circa 1970. Photograph: the search for common ground

Our universities, scientists and campaigners have been challenging government policies on resource management for years. We remain confident that the courts will reject government-defying arguments, in the name of EU law, that a quarter of a million new jobs will be created if the field is allowed to continue being a petroleum field.

The new case is presented as a central test of the UK government’s commitment to tackle climate change. We welcome its ability to enforce the policy it has so consistently expressed, despite being party to it for 18 months. The UK is bound by the 2015 Paris agreement to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases it produces. The UK has a legally binding target to limit its emissions to 60% of 1990 levels by 2025.

As a credible party to the fight against climate change, it is only right that it should uphold a single set of environmental and climate change policies for the country as a whole, even in the absence of an EU deal.

The government, however, has consistently abandoned its environmental and climate policy principles, embracing and promoting the fossil fuel industry instead. There is no renewable industry in the country that is bigger or closer to a commercial base than the solar, wind and hydroelectric sectors.

Our aspiration to grow the renewable energy industry has long been undermined by restrictions placed on overseas ownership of land, or on the transfer of ownership of companies that generate power. Energy companies operate with the technological and financial resources required to take advantage of UK resources at the earliest stage possible. They need that free and unfettered access to British skills and infrastructure to take their businesses abroad and to add value to their upstream businesses.

While the government is restricting our opportunities, it is allowing companies such as Shell and Exxon to set up “bases” in the UK, which provide them with access to non-UK base supply chains, business tax breaks and tax reliefs. They can keep producing their products and keep renting a land base in the UK. That is not the way to grow an industry, to drive up technology, or to drive down costs.

I hope on Wednesday that the European courts will conclude that our present strategy is unfair and unjustifiable. And, if they do, Britain will have a real legal obligation to pursue the transition towards a low-carbon energy future, not the one that keeps us reliant on expensive, uncertain, and destructive imports.

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