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Environmental activists could undermine the UK’s energy security and put our net zero ambitions at risk

24 May 2022

Environmental activists and protesters could undermine the UK’s energy security and risk making it far harder for the nation to reach its net zero target, the chief executive of Offshore Energies UK warned in a keynote speech.

Protests, legal action and publicity stunts by organisations including Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and Greenpeace may deter offshore investment in the UK waters and set back the UK’s efforts to cut emissions, Deirdre Michie told energy business leaders at OEUK’s annual conference on Tuesday May 24.

She said attempts by such groups to block any further oil and gas investments in UK waters – the stated ambition of many activist groups – would make the UK increasingly dependent on other countries for its energy. Those countries could include Russia.

She emphasised the importance of oil and gas derived energy and products to the UK economy and British consumers, noting that emissions are driven by a country’s infrastructure – not by where it sources its fuels from.

The UK has:

  • 32 million vehicles that burn petrol or diesel
  • 24 million homes that rely on gas boilers for heat and hot water
  • 35 gas-fired power stations that it relies on for 40% of its electricity.

She warned that until the UK replaces such infrastructure it will continue to need oil and gas. Currently the UK gets 75% of its total energy from these fuels.

Michie’s comments are a response to the growing concern over climate change and to the increasingly polarised debate over how best to cut the UK’s emissions. Michie said the energy industry is aligned with the environmental groups’ ambitions for a low-carbon UK – but disagrees with their vision of how to get there

In her speech Michie said: “Our industry, given the complexities we have to deal with, has to think and invest in terms of years and often decades.

“Politicians, the media and campaign groups, however, operate on much shorter pressures and deadlines, whether they be impending elections, copy deadlines or fund raising.

“Our conference follows months of disruption, protests and legal actions involving groups like Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, Greenpeace and others.

“Its no irony to say that we are aligned with their long-term vision, of a low-carbon UK.  But we do disagree with their approach as to how we get there.  Because the actions they’ve been taking – headline grabbing but damaging – are another risk to investor confidence.

“The UK’s current infrastructure, our 32 million petrol and diesel vehicles, the 24 million homes reliant on gas boilers, and the 35 power stations that use gas to make 40% of our power – does absolutely need to change.

“But, and this is not an excuse, it is another reality check, that those changes will take time and so for some decades to come, much of our energy will inevitably come from oil and gas.

“Of course, we do have a choice as to where that oil and gas comes from.  We could cut UK production and increase imports –intensifying our reliance on other countries. But as the Ukraine crisis shows, that’s not a great option.

“Or we could, instead, choose to invest in the oil and gas resources in our own backyard.

“The vision of the pressure groups, to block all oil and gas developments in UK waters, would do nothing to cut consumption or emissions.  Both are driven by how most of us live our lives. 

“Changing our infrastructure and the way we live will cut emissions, but it will take years of careful planning, hard work, and commitment to the longer term.

“Disrupting our industry disrupts that process.  If the pressure groups were to get their way, the UK would become ever more dependent on other countries for its oil and gas – countries that could include Russia.

“It would destroy tens of thousands of British jobs; it would cost our country and consumers billions of pounds in import bills. And here is the irony, it would actually increase global emissions as we would have to import fuels with a higher carbon footprint rather than use what we have produced locally!

“What’s more, it would undermine one of the few industries capable of building the UK’s energy future. That’s our sector – which is already building the low-carbon and sustainable infrastructure needed to reach net zero.

“So, our ask, to the politicians, policy makers, and pressure groups, is to put this in a broader context and not just in terms of the next election, publication, or protest.

“But to work with us as we plan and build, not just for the weeks and months ahead but for the decades to come.

“Net Zero or Not Zero – the road to each is clear. The time to make that choice is now.”


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