The former CEO of BP, who warned the industry of its impact on the climate 25 years ago, has said rising calls to cease new oil and gas in the North Sea should be tempered amid a need for homegrown supply.
Speaking to Energy Voice at the ONS Conference in Stavanger, Lord John Browne of Madingley said: “We should take this coolly, I think, and make sure that we invest in domestic resources as we need them.
“Bearing in mind one would hope they’re not needed in the long term in the quantity that we have today, but they will naturally decline and the standards for development are pretty high.”
The crossbench peer, who led BP as CEO for from 1995 to 2007, referenced projections for a continued requirement for fossil fuels, even through to 2050.
It comes as several new projects, like the Jackdaw, Rosebank and Cambo fields off UK waters, are met with rising political protests.
Industry claims that, although the supply is sold on the global market, projects such as these underwrite energy security in the UK.
Lord Browne said: “While I’m investing in everything which is not oil and gas or coal, I do believe firmly that we will be living with a good chunk of our energy provided by oil and gas by 2050.
“Even, I think, the BP Energy Outlook out last year, said, by 2050, final energy demand will be made-up of 20-25% hydrocarbons even by 2050. It’s 65% now.”
Aberdeen and North Sea have ‘competitive advantage’ on transition
Lord Browne recently passed a 25-year anniversary of a landmark speech he delivered to his alma mater at Stanford University, when he became the first Big Oil executive to link the industry’s actions to climate change.
I’ve been speaking out about the need for urgent action on climate change since 1997. Look forward to continuing the conversation and making real progress at #COP26, starting tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/gJiUpGKzM0
— John Browne (@LordJohnBrowne) October 30, 2021
“I think I was basically treated as a pariah for having said something which was evidently true – and that we could do something about. And BP did, it managed to invest $8 billion one way or another.”
After more than 40 years at BP, he is now chairman of his green investment vehicle, BeyondNetZero.
While there is a continued need for oil and gas, Aberdeen and wider Scotland have huge economic hopes for investment in green technologies like offshore wind and carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Lord Browne said: “The breakthroughs that the North Sea has been involved in are fantastic and they can be deployed in offshore wind and floating solar, possibly.
“It’s a great centre of marine technology and it should never undersell itself.
“We haven’t even done enough of conventional CCS, which needs a lot of chemical engineering, lots of plumbing. We need to think: are there better ways of doing this?
“Those are the sort of questions that universities in Scotland should be dealing with and in fact are dealing with in Strathclyde, in Aberdeen.”
As offshore wind ramps up off the back of the huge ScotWind licences awarded this year and the UK’s 50GW target by 2030, Lord Browne said the region has plenty going for it.
“I think that this is a competitive advantage, and there’s lots of manufacturing around there and, in particular, also a lot of services.
“People must remember that to build a wind farm offshore wind farm takes a lot of analysis and integration of many, many suppliers. It also requires continuous services.”
Governments have been ‘absent’ on energy crisis
The theme of the ONS Conference in Stavanger is “trust”; a topic weighing heavily on Lord Browne’s mind.
He referenced work from the Edelman Trust Index, which found that 63% of respondents believe corporate leaders lie.
“There’s an issue here, but I don’t like to think of this all this bad news. It’s just a lot of things we’ve got to get right.
“Number one is I think we have to get people to believe that what people say they’ll actually do.
“In 2009, the world promised the developing world $100 billion a year to handle mitigation and adaptation of climate change.
“In 2021, it was still being discussed in COP26. And so it’s that sort of gap that says to people, what’s going on here?”
But the issue lies not just with the corporate world but in governments around the globe as people face the choice between heating homes or food on their plates as energy prices escalate.
Already on record as being in favour of the North Sea windfall tax, Lord Browne said administrations need to be doing more.
“We have a crisis of confidence as a result of affordability and I think people are looking around saying, does anyone think of us, you know, what’s really going on?
“I think governments generally have been – and I mean globally – have been absent.
“They’ve stood on the sidelines saying ‘gosh, this is a big problem’ as opposed to this is a problem with a solution.”