As the old year gives way to the new and we start the long, slow climb out of winter darkness – at least here in Aberdeen and all points north – it is an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been, where we might possibly be going and what we could do better.
So please forgive the indulgence – I’m going to do exactly that.
This is a remarkable period in the story of energy, a time of transition as Hydrocarbon Man gradually realises that there has to be a more sustainable way forward.
An opinion formed by apparently dangerous climate change and acknowledged shortages of premium grade resources, though low-grade, dirty hydrocarbons exist in abundance.
That’s not to say that we’re about to drop the hydrocarbons habit anytime soon. Far from it. As Peter Tertzakian notes in his seminal book, A Thousand Barrels A Second, energy transitions take many decades to accomplish.
Only this time we’re trying to implement massive change in about half the average transition time, with several times the human population than was the case at the start of the 20th century.
Believe it or not, little old Aberdeen has a rather important role to play in the new future that we’re trying to create for ourselves.
It is a place where the current transition is starting to be felt, and we either embrace it or lose out to others.
I am of course referring to the city/region’s pre-eminence as a major, world-class centre of upstream offshore oil & gas activity, and of the prospect that it could achieve something meaningful in sustainable energy, especially in maritime renewables and carbon capture.
This is not something that will happen overnight.
For me personally it has been a 12-year journey since getting a gang of people together to create the All-Energy show, and since Gordon McIntosh of Aberdeen City Council challenged me to create a catalyst to that change, a focus group that has evolved into today’s Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group.
So, when Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond attended last month’s transition summit in Aberdeen, the city was already a decade up the maritime renewables road, not that much credit appeared to be accorded to that effort by co-chairs Messrs Wood and Marchant at said summit, from what I was told.
The important thing, however, is that the North Sea’s oil & gas supply chain has now clocked the maritime renewables opportunity and is gradually starting to engage directly, including Technip becoming involved in the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre project, which has successfully attracted 40million euros of EU grant aid.
That same supply chain is also sniffing the carbon capture opportunity which, in a sense, is closer to home, as the petroleum industry per se is already well-practised, albeit for production enhancement reasons rather than anything to do with climate change.
But what a pity it is that the actual carbon dioxide scrubbing systems required for fossil fuel power stations such as Longannet are fundamentally foreign imports, which makes a lie out of government claims that the UK is a global leader in carbon capture when it quite clearly is not. Norway is. The Americans are. We are not.
Meanwhile, it is important for us to value the North Sea and to understand that its resources are critical to the UK’s economic recovery.
Despite the province’s maturity, the last couple of years have been pretty good in our hydrocarbons backyard with a number of sizeable discoveries and rediscoveries made and successful appraisals conducted.
Indeed they add significantly to the highly-encouraging new UK projects pipeline – the North Sea Indian Summer that I have referred to several times over the past year.
It will be interesting to read Oil & Gas UK’s next economic assessment. I think we will be pleasantly surprised.
The past couple of years have also been good for the UK oil & gas international supply chain, especially the Aberdeen-based capability and big-brand engineering houses in London.
The trick is to keep building on that and the London Government had better understand how strategically important it is to back such success, not solely with politicians’ endless prattle, but with tangible support and by putting its money where its mouth is, knowing that the return to UK PLC will be a handsome one. I’ve said this before: it really is time to act.
As for Aberdeen and its shire, let us be clear, we must not compromise or squander our energy advantage, wittingly or otherwise.
It disturbs me that swingeing local authority budget cuts could cause immense damage, if they are not already doing so, by impacting on simple things such as thousands of potholes, cancelling infrastructure improvements and not according sufficient priority to economic development.
It disturbs me that the heart of Europe’s energy capital remains so scruffy: where is that sense of real civic pride? Don’t we love Aberdeen?
It disturbs me that if the controversial and very expensive Union Terrace Gardens project goes ahead, Aberdeen will be accused of profligacy at a time when prudence should be the watchword. And rightly so.
It disturbs me that anything to do with educating our young should be compromised any more than has already been the case.
It disturbs me that neither Holyrood nor London appear to understand the need to truly nurture what remains perhaps the most successful economic powerhouse in Britain today; or at least reward that success in some tangible manner on the basis that success begets success.
It disturbs me that, locally, we still don’t seem to understand that, globally, Aberdeen is the brand that the rest of the world recognises. Outsiders have on occasion asked me: “What’s this shire thing? Something to do with The Hobbit?”
It disturbs me that, when it snows and freezes, our transport links fall over and chaos ensues.
In my view the railways especially need sorting out – big time.
If we keep on getting things wrong the way we are doing, you can bet your bottom dollar that oil & gas supply chain main and mid-brands which are overseas owned will declare enough is enough, up sticks and leave.
That’s all for now.