The North Sea has occupied a significant place – not just geographically – but in the debate of future energy supply in the UK.
It’s deeply polarising, to say the least. Protesters want us to stop drilling in the North Sea altogether, while other radical commentators insist we must extract whatever we can no matter the cost to the planet.
Both sides ignore the benefits of new technologies that can help ease our transition to achieving net zero, while ensuring we retain sufficient domestic energy security.
What is clear is that there has been a misstep in our energy strategy. We are too vulnerable to external factors and too reliant on questionably-sourced foreign supply. The government cannot afford to keep bailing energy companies out. Consumers cannot afford to keep paying exorbitant bills.
In crisis lies opportunity, and this is the perfect moment to press for change. The North Sea has a role to play, but we must ensure it is a newer, better and more innovative North Sea.
The government appears to agree – at least to an extent. The industry regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority, is now ready to issue over 100 new licences. But other challenges remain: sourcing investment for new North Sea projects has become more difficult in the last decade, and ensuring the right platforms are awarded licences by the regulator is incredibly important.
We cannot ignore the importance of our commitments to the environment, but those who want to axe every project misunderstand how new technologies work. Al Cook, the CEO of Equinor, used a good analogy recently, stating that older platforms are the equivalent of driving an old banger coughing out pollution, when you could be driving a new car that produces far lower emissions.
On average, extracting one barrel of oil from the North Sea produces 20kg of carbon dioxide. Innovative technologies can reduce these emissions by more than 80 per cent. Striving to reduce our CO2 output has to be part of the reinvigoration of the North Sea.
Doing so will also make the sector more appealing to investors, who are far more environmentally conscious after years of the government enthusiastically backing renewables.
Two examples of these nascent technologies are polymer flooding and floating offshore wind power. These techniques make the extraction process more efficient and reduce emissions through power generation. Using both can add roughly three billion barrels of oil to the UK’s reserves, and due to the speed of the process, results in drastic reductions of emissions per barrel.
Given that wind power has been identified as key to transforming the UK into an energy exporter by 2040, there is a dual benefit to reducing North Sea emissions while honing renewable technologies that are the future of our energy supply.
By working more closely with renewable energy technologies like floating wind, we can also create a pathway for re-skilling oil and gas sector workers as the move towards renewables rightly gathers momentum.
There is exceptional financial and business expertise in the North Sea, given how mature the sector is compared to other newer types of energy, and that knowledge can be valuable to other energy sectors too.
We should be sharing expertise and working together to protect the UK from future disruption, and only by being bold in our approach will we be able to reinvigorate our domestic energy sector.