We should use the North Sea reserves

Connor Tomlinson

October 18, 2021

Though the recent ‘gas crisis’ may have been mostly media hysteria, it did highlight the fragility of our energy supply chains. Since president Biden shut down the Keystone Xl pipeline with his first Executive Order, gas prices in the US have risen to a seven-year high.

Where under Trump the US was a net global exporter of fossil-fuels, Biden turning the taps off means more countries turn to Russia for their fuel; including Britain. But buying from unsavoury vendors isn’t necessary when we have plentiful reserves in the North Sea which we should be making use of again.

As both my paper with the Adam Smith Institute and the IPCC report conclude, nuclear is necessary to meet Net Zero targets. But many plants take a decade to construct; with costs accruing over the course of construction to meet necessary safety regulations. No matter what Extinction Rebellion claim, Britain can’t endure the grid brownouts—which cost lives and livelihoods in Germany—caused by renewables in the meantime. We must seek other avenues of repatriating reliable energy production.

Tapping just 10 per cent of the 300 oil and gas reserves in the North Sea would meet Britain’s energy needs for the next 50 years. Combined with carbon capture and storage to ensure the industry meets its 50 per cent emissions reduction promise, natural gas can provide a baseline for the grid while renewables technologies play catchup in generation, storage capacity, inertia, and cost.

North Sea oil and gas production peaked in 2000 and tapered off until Britain became a net importer of oil and gas in 2005 (with import demand doubling between 2007 and 2017). Britain has since followed the globe in increasing reliance on Russia for imports; despite continuing to contribute to NATO. Using Germany again as a comparison: their decommissioning of nuclear plants, and rapid adoption of unreliable renewables, led to more coal being burned than before, and billions invested into the Nordstrom pipeline from Russia.

Feeling guilty about resorting to fossil fuels while renewables aren’t viable alternatives won’t do us any good. China has already subsumed Hong Kong’s national sovereignty, and now threatens Taiwan and Japan with military intervention. They have abandoned decarbonising following blackouts in four provinces, and energy rations being imposed on a further sixteen. 170 coal mines were ordered to increase annual outputs by 55.3 million tonnes; and another 51 mines that had previously exceeded capacity were told to continue. The UN projects global emissions will increase by 16 per cent in 2030 due to these moves. Ironic, given 80 per cent of the batteries every nation uses to store renewables are produced in China anyways.

While creating the economic conditions for environmentally friendly innovations to thrive is vital for Britain’s competitiveness in global markets, a wholesale adoption of these technologies too early will be suicide for our standard of living. That’s not just an argument to salvage creature comforts: energy shortages will impact hospitals, supermarkets, and transport. We would be sacrificing citizens at the altar of climate ideology, before returning to reliance on Russia anyway; all while lining the pockets of China as they vie for global dominance.

It’s vital North Sea oil and gas contribute to our Net Zero transition. Combined with carbon capture, a cleaner, more morally palatable way of extracting energy is necessary to untangle our energy grid from unsavoury political alliances.

Reinstating the infrastructure for North Sea oil and gas may take time. Alongside the temporary repatriating of cleaner fossil-fuels, the UK should look to leverage international pressure on the United States to reopen Keystone XL, and secure a reliable supply of gas from a friendly state. Under Trump, Keystone XL allowed the USA to become net exporters for the first time since President Nixon made the pledge; all while leading the world in annual emissions reductions between 2017 and 2019. Relying on Russia for our oil and gas, despite their spurious human rights record, is untenable when so obviously avoidable.

Pairing a timed use of North Sea reserves with careful diplomacy to secure friendly foreign fuel sources will avert future energy crises as Britain looks to a renewable future. There’s no use tilting at windmills while we can have black gold flow from our own pockets rather than our enemies’.


  • Connor Tomlinson

    Connor Tomlinson is the Head of Research at the British Conservation Alliance, and a political commentator with Young Voices UK. He appears regularly in C3 Magazine, AIER, and on talkRadio. Follow him on Twitter: @Con_Tomlinson

Written by Connor Tomlinson

Connor Tomlinson is the Head of Research at the British Conservation Alliance, and a political commentator with Young Voices UK. He appears regularly in C3 Magazine, AIER, and on talkRadio. Follow him on Twitter: @Con_Tomlinson

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