A few weeks ago my exposition in Options for Scotland of making offshore assets safe and clean, leaving in situ, and using the money saved from not removing to fund green energy projects, received two days of TV, radio and media coverage.
The responses I received were overwhelmingly supportive but as expected there were a few detractors. With some comments quite hurtful.
To put my views in context. I was Genesis Oil and Gas Consultants’ technical director for almost 20 years. I oversaw company growth from 30 to 350 personnel. I established a Decommissioning group and also had a large Environmental Sciences group. The company won a contract from the DTI (that dates it) to determine decommissioning costs for the UK. In parallel the Environment Group were undertaking Environmental Impact Assessments for decommissioning projects.
I saw the huge decommissioning bills, the uncertainty in the cost estimates and, in particular, the role of the taxpayer. When I discussed the environmental motivation for removal none of my scientists could give me a reason other than ‘the law says so’. I formed the view many years ago that the taxpayer was being short changed. Throughout my career though I kept my views to myself. The company was receiving a significant amount of decommissioning related work from very supportive clients so why should I mouth off. As a businessman, I would be shooting myself in the foot. I only started to express my views as a taxpayer after I retired when criticism could be leveled at me and not the company.
The most hurtful comment I received after the media exposure was from the chair of the Oil Industry Finance Association (incidentally an organisation and position I could find very little recent information on). He branded me as ridiculous and beggaring belief. The basis for his swipe was ‘you wouldn’t do this on land’. Can I ask him to give me a parallel on land that has the same tax framework, economic, environmental and societal impact as offshore decommissioning?
Some critics said I was an academic with no idea of the real world. I think my CV says otherwise. They also said I was recycling old ideas. I agree that I’m not the first to suggest leaving architecture in place but show me someone who was proposing the green energy route for the savings made.
Others said you can’t throw away agreed International and National Laws. Of course you can’t and I have never suggested that. What I have asked for is a comparative sustainability assessment to provide the evidence to challenge laws that I believe do not serve the nation.
Leaving in situ will be a hazard to shipping said some. It is not a new hazard, most of the architecture has been in place for decades.
Decommissioning provides hundreds of jobs. Yes it does but not across all the ports vying for onshore dismantling and recycling. Furthermore the jobs are short term; there are not long term jobs following a decommissioning project. Not so with green energy.
NGOs have criticised me with the mantra – the polluter pays. If the polluter did pay I would have no case. It is the taxpayer who pays most, the people in the NGOs.
He’s too radical was another comment. I think that’s a complement!
None of the points indirectly or directly made to me have changed my resolve. The current decommissioning plans are poorly serving the taxpayer. I ask the Government again to demonstrate to the taxpayer that, in these days of fiscal austerity, that the current decommissioning plans are good for society, the environment and the economy.
Tom Baxter is a senior lecturer in chemical engineering at Aberdeen University