The Scottish Government’s newly-published energy strategy has been branded a “breathtaking betrayal” of the oil and gas sector by Russell Borthwick, the chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.
Borthwick said that while the Scottish Government’s position is “largely symbolic” as these matters are reserved to the Westminster parliament, the strategy “is still a breathtaking betrayal” of one of Scotland’s biggest industries.
The strategy was also criticized by other energy industry leaders including influential trade body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) and industry veteran Ian Wood.
Borthwick said the Scottish Government’s “presumption” against new North Sea oil and gas exploration has been met with “complete disbelief” in the North East of Scotland.
“Cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport, Michael Matheson, presented the Scottish Government’s latest energy plan in Holyrood yesterday,” said Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber in a statement.
“Its overarching aim is to set a course for Scotland’s energy transition, setting out how government intends to ensure a just transition from oil and gas to renewables.
“Addressing the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Matheson said ‘unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is not consistent’ with efforts to decarbonise, reinforcing that ‘maximum economic recovery’ is no longer government policy.
“The published strategy document declares ‘there should be a presumption against new exploration for oil and gas in the North Sea …”
Borthwick said: “This move towards a presumption against exploration for North Sea oil and gas has been met with compete disbelief in the North-east of Scotland.
“While the Scottish Government’s position is largely symbolic, as these matters are reserved to the Westminster parliament, this is still a breathtaking betrayal of one of Scotland’s biggest industries.
“We welcome the strategy’s backing for the Acorn Project and its ambition to increase investment in lower carbon technologies, including hydrogen.
“However, the energy transition is going to take 25 years or more and there is quite clearly a sustained period of time where oil and gas will remain a crucial part of our energy mix.
“So, we have two options; to produce more domestically, with full control over the regulatory environment in which it is extracted; or to import an increasing amount of our energy, with the heavier carbon toll that shipping it from other parts of the world carries.
“The latter makes little economic sense, and even less environmental sense.
“The position set-out today suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the energy transition, and the requirement for oil and gas to fuel it.
“Drilling and production are still very much needed in the short, medium, and long term to bridge, and in many cases, fund, the transition.
“Furthermore, it suggests that ministers have learned nothing from the energy crisis of 2022 – a crisis which has been exacerbated by our reliance on energy imports due, in part, to a lack of new North Sea exploration and production over the last decade.
“There is an acceptance in the public at large that leaving Scotland’s oil in the ground while importing increasing amounts of it from other parts of the world is environmentally illiterate.
“The Scottish Government needs to reflect upon this and reverse this damaging, job-destroying position before it is too late.”
Oil and gas veteran Ian Wood, chairman of ETZ in Aberdeen, confirmed his organisation would be making “strong representations” to the Scottish Government overnment about how “damaging” its stance would be to the economy and energy security.
Wood said: “It is absolutely clear that it makes no sense to prematurely reduce our domestic oil and gas production only to increase carbon-heavy imports from overseas.”
Jenny Stanning, external relations director of Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), said: “Our industry has pledged to work with the Scottish Government towards its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2045.
“So, we strongly support the strategy’s commitment to develop a Scottish hydrogen economy, including the exciting Acorn project in the north-east.
“Acorn would be the core of both Scotland’s hydrogen production industry and the development of its CO2 capture and storage technologies.
“However, we are concerned at the statement’s suggestion of accelerating the decline in oil and gas production.
“Scotland gets 79% of its total energy from oil and gas according to its latest official figures.
“Across the UK about 24 million homes (85% of the total) rely on gas boilers for heat and we get 42% of our electricity from gas. We also have 32 million vehicles running on petrol and diesel.
“The plain facts mean we will need gas and oil for years to come.
“Additionally, in Scotland alone, the offshore industry supports 90,000 jobs. Across the UK it’s around 200,000.
“So we need to ensure that the final strategy acknowledges the continuing role of oil and gas in Scotland’s economy – as well as our sector’s role in a rapid transition to a low-carbon future.”