A UK minister has been branded “ridiculous” for suggesting that oil could be extracted from a new North Sea development and then sit in barrels unused.
The comments come a day before David Duguid, Scotland Office Minister, is set to meet with one of the owners of the project, which could produce up to 800 million barrels of oil, for a “fact-finding” mission in Aberdeen.
When challenged today about the climate impact of the controversial Cambo oil field, being developed by Shell and Siccar Point Energy, Duguid said “the beauty of oil is you can actually store it”, suggesting the oil could be drilled and then kept as reserves.
The project is coming under increasing pressure ahead of the COP26 climate summit, with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reassess the development.
Duguid was challenged on BBC Good Morning Scotland about how to square the government’s targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, and its hosting of the COP26 summit, with a project that campaigners say would produce as much carbon dioxide as 18 coal-fired power stations running for a year.
He replied: “If the Cambo project, field, does get the go-ahead, what that will get the go-ahead for is to extract that oil and gas. What you’re talking about is the consumption and the combustion of that oil and gas…”
When the host interjected, “Well, we’re not just extracting it to sit in barrels are we? We are going to use it?”, Duguid replied: “Well technically you could. I mean, that’s the beauty of oil, is you can actually store it. Gas is less, is more complicated to store. The way I think to look at it is, better to have the oil and gas there and not need it, than to need it then have to export from other countries.”
‘Keep it in the Ground’
The remarks have been called “ridiculous” and “nonsense” by campaigners.
Caroline Rance, Climate and Energy Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “It’s clearly ridiculous to suggest that these companies would extract millions of barrels of oil and just keep them on a shelf somewhere.
“But with his comment about keeping oil in the barrels, the Scottish minister is admitting that the oil should never be burned because of the damage it would do to our climate. The safest place to keep this oil is in the ground.”
She added: “The UK government is describing this meeting as a ‘fact finding’ mission, but the facts are that we don’t need Cambo or any new fossil fuel developments. There is more than enough oil and gas in existing fields to see us through the energy transition.”
Tessa Khan, Director of Uplift, one of three environmental groups taking the government to court over its continued drilling in the North Sea, said: “This is nonsense. You don’t drill oil to store it in a barrel. If you dig it up, you’re going to burn it.
“The International Energy Agency and the United Nations have made it clear that we can’t afford any new oil and gas production if we want to stay within safe climate limits. The UK government needs to stop listening to oil companies, start listening to scientists and reject the Cambo field.”
David Duguid and the Scotland Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Last week Professor James Curran, former chief executive of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and a UK reviewer of UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, said the Cambo oilfield should not be allowed to go ahead.
Prof Curran cited UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said the IPCC report “must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet”, and the International Energy Authority (IEA), whose Executive Director, Fatih Birol, in May said: “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.”
In July DeSmog revealed how North Sea oil and gas fields are increasingly being bought up by private equity firms and foreign government-linked firms, including in China, Russia and the Middle East, where they face little public scrutiny about their climate impact.
Last week Oil & Gas UK, the trade association for the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry, was criticised for claiming to support the IPCC’s new report while arguing that oil and gas are part of the solution to the climate crisis.