Political has-been Jim Sillars’ weekend remarks about nationalising BP should Scotland become independent verge on plain stupidity.
Indeed his threats make me angry as they display a profound ignorance of the UK’s upstream oil & gas industry.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-nationalisation; in fact there have been several occasions during the 25 years that I’ve been scribbling about the North Sea when I have wished that the UK government would do exactly that.
Perhaps that day might indeed come; but it had better be founded on sound reasoning and not political dogma.
When Tony Benn sensibly created BNOC (British National Oil Corporation) in the early days of the UK’s North Sea industry, Margaret Thatcher … at that time in opposition to the ruling Labour party of the day … vowed to tear it down should she ever get into power.
As history tells us, she did get into power and did indeed tear down the BNOC edifice. Thatcherism and all of its City/Tory-rooted dogma was born … and with it the biggest greed-fest that has ever been known in these islands.
However, reality is that it is government and not the industry that has squandered the North Sea, not that the oil companies are blameless, because they most certainly are not.
However, the road is littered with poorly thought through fiscal changes … arguably the three worst under the current government and the last Labour PM, Gordon Brown; and a generally sloppy, laissez faire attitude towards Britain’s energy resources.
And having raked the money in. tax revenues and royalties have been blown … and on what? Where is the legacy? Where was the cohesive, long-term strategy? Where is it now?
Granted, there is a fiscal review under way; but will it be genuinely root and branch and come up with the very necessary changes required to assure long-term viability of the (currently) UK North Sea?
If oil companies show a reluctance to invest because government keeps on shifting the goalposts and simply cannot be trusted, that is not a valid reason to knee-jerk nationalise the sector, whether the jurisdiction be UK or an independent Scotland.
On the other hand, if there is a growing mountain of North Sea assets offered for sale by various oil companies, but no takers for those assets, which is about where we are headed right now, then perhaps a state oilco could be set up … in the national interest of course. And pragmatically.
So what of Sillars and his prattlings about BP?
Take a dispassionate look at the North Sea. In spite of everything, including the ill-advised selling off of the Forties field and being allowed to get away with shutting down the Miller field with tens of millions of barrels of oil in place … and a lot more besides as I understand … BP has been among the most consistent and committed operators on the UK Continental Shelf.
It continues to invest huge sums of money in the province.
I sometimes wonder where UK West of Shetland would be today, but for BP. Foinaven, Schiehallion and Clair have all been driven by this company, and remarkably well, all things considered.
Moreover, Schiehallion is being redeveloped as the much bigger Quad 204 project; Clair is at its second stage of development (Clair Ridge) and a phase three project can pretty much be counted upon as a goer.
So Mr Sillars, where is your case for nationalising BP?
You don’t have one.