It was revealed today that the United Kingdom risks becoming hugely reliant upon the importation of energy as North Sea oil and gas reserves begin to decline. US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks revealed that the UK government has been aware of this looming problem for at least 3 years.
The cables state that UK oil and gas reserves are decling at a rate of 8% per year and that in less than ten years the country will be importing between 60-80% of oil and gas supplies. Such a development would leave the country exposed to potentially unreliable supplies from unstable regions and open to the political brinkmanship of corporations such as the Russian energy giant Gazprom.
The then UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks wrote in one of the released documents that the UK government had already opened up talks with Norway and Qatar by 2008 to establish good relations before the anticipated massive increase in import needs. Wicks commented to the Scotsman newspaper, following the release of these cables, that Norway was a “good democratic human rights oil and gas producer”.
The cables also revealed that that had been an acknowledgement within the UK government that importation on good terms would not be sufficient to “address this deficit” and that it would be necessary to “ensure a diversity of supply”.
Wicks told the then US under secretary for economic and energy affairs Reuben Jeffery that the UK government was having to look at other forms of energy generation such as renewables, nuclear, etc:
“The UK will experience a severe decrease in North Sea gas and oil stocks by 2020, and it will need to improve its diversity of supply as well as move towards ‘homegrown’ measures such as nuclear and renewables.,
“In addition to diversifying supply, the UK is building up its ‘homegrown supply’ of nuclear and renewable energy and is moving towards clean coal and carbon capture.”
This acknowledgement of the problems inherent with the UK’s reliance upon fossil fuels at government level can be seen in the introduction of feed-in tariffs for wind and solar power by the previous administration in the years following these discussions. Renewables are necessary not only in the face of European Union carbon reduction targets but also to make up for the expected decline in North Sea production and the ever increasing cost of energy importation.
Professor Kemp, an energy expert at the University of Aberdeen, was quick to reinforce the continued viability of North Sea oil and gas extraction. He commentated that there remained “a lot of oil and gas that’s undiscovered in reserves” within the North Sea:
“We have produced about 40 billion barrels of oil and gas, and central estimates suggest that there are now between 20 and 21 billion left. But the upper estimate is that there could be about 35 billion.
“There are still a lot of reserves and it’s not a desperate situation. Our modelling shows that there will be oil and gas beyond 2040, but there will be much smaller production by then.”
And beyond 2040? All that can be guaranteed is that production cannot last forever. There is a finite amount of oil and gas in the North Sea and there will come a time when the taps run dry.
The issues of declining North Sea production, ever increasing fossil fuel prices, and the inevitable instability of some energy supplies means that the development of a strong green energy industry in the UK is both a matter of necessity and urgency. Renewable forms of energy generation such as wind are removed from the issues of importation, foreign policy, and fluctuating or ever-increasing cost.