Archive for the ‘oil’ Category

Vote “Yes” for Reindustrialization of Scotland

August 16, 2014

The following was published on August 28 2014 as a letter to the Lanark and Carluke Gazette, the local newspaper where I grew up, in the run up to the referendum on Scottish independence. 

As a child in the late ’60s/early ’70s, I well remember taking the train from Carluke up to Glasgow.  By the time Wishaw was reached, the signs of heavy industry were obvious.  Engineering and steelmaking were to the fore, with the Ravenscraig steelworks at the core.  Hallside was passed, then onto Glasgow with its rail yards and shipbuilding.  The scale of it all left a huge impression.  I could only imagine what was happening around the glowing furnaces.

I soon began to appreciate the degree to which friends’ families were working in and around these, and related, industries.  The presence of Ravenscraig, an integrated steelworks, meant employment and job opportunities.  Oil and gas had just been discovered in the North Sea, the extraction of which would require vast quantities of steel for production platforms, pipeline transmission systems, processing facilities, and related infrastructure.  Entering my teens, with an admittedly abnormal interest in politics for my age, I felt the future looked bright for my generation – despite the ongoing malaise within the broader UK economy.  I doubt I wasn’t the only one to feel such optimism, a new dawn for Scotland; maybe wider complacency began to set in.  After all steel making would always be there and had been for generations.  Scottish steel had helped defeat the Nazis.  In the ’80s even BMW used Ravenscraig steel!  And now there was a new end user, requiring thousands of tons of steel largely destined for offshore.  When I left Lanark Grammar in 1979, days after the election of the Thatcher government, pessimism did not enter my head.  This soon changed.

The rest is history, scarring Lanarkshire.  Essentially, Ravenscraig was sacrificed.  There was no will to retain it, despite valiant efforts and its relative productivity.  After hundreds of years, iron and steel making was eliminated from Scotland.  An industry, generations in the making, essentially wiped out during the years of Thatcherism.  Simultaneous to the need for steel for developing North Sea oil and gas fields, too.  Such severe deindustrialization would not have happened in an independent Scotland.  Employment opportunities gone forever.  Personally, my reluctant emigration.

It is now 2014 and if I am accused of living in the past so be it.  I have heard it said that voting “No” in the coming referendum is tantamount to agreeing to the legacies of Thatcherism.  I think that is harsh as I recognize why, out of self-interest, nostalgia and/or fear, people would choose to vote “No”.  But make no mistake voting “No” has risks that economic potential will again fail to be realized, and that generations to come will again be failed.  That Scottish soldiers will be repeatedly committed to further acts of overseas adventurism masquerading as foreign policy.  That nuclear weapons will remain on the Clyde estuary.  That Scotland’s natural resources will continue to be squandered.  That the pound will continue to lose value.  That Westminster will continue to govern for the benefit of the City of London, rather than for the nations and regions of the UK as a whole.

Voting “Yes” to independence has risks, too.  Any action does.  But, make no mistake, many of the politicians focused on these risks would stick a proverbial knife in your back, their purpose is in manufacturing propaganda for “Project Fear”.  Their goal is to keep Scotland’s resources tied to Westminster and the City of London.  After all, the Bank of England is able to generate pounds out of thin air to maintain a debt-based economy.  Natural resources and energy, particularly oil in the North Sea and Atlantic Shelf, cannot so be created.  The political establishment at Westminster is terrified of the macroeconomic consequences of a “Yes” vote; no tactic will be too low for “No”.  But Lanarkshire and Scotland needs reindustrialized, long term the best way to achieve that is with a “Yes”.


“Independence isn’t a constitutional nicety, it’s an economic necessity”

March 26, 2013

So it’s September 18th 2014 then. Would I vote “Yes”? Of course.
Maybe my memory has let me down here, but I think it was Jim Sillars that summed it up best for me in the 1980s. “Independence isn’t a constitutional nicety, it’s an economic necessity”.
As an adolescent, I did my first leaflet drop for the SNP in 1974 in Lanark for Tom McAlpine. I well remember the “It’s Scotland’s Oil” campaign theme and the optimism that was generated. I really couldn’t have imagined that only 14 years later, after combining a PhD in the physical sciences with an intense political activism, I would be packing my bags for work. After a spell in Canada I eventually settled in the United States and, in a quirk of fate, ended-up working on research topics related to oil. This experience has fully confirmed my old suspicions about eminent politicians peddling propaganda about the imminence of dwindling production and revenues. Sure, reservoirs are depleted. However, a great deal of the original oil in place in the North Sea remains, well, in place. Technologies for its production continue to be developed. Secondary and tertiary recovery becomes feasible for implementation. Oil, produced for the last four decades, can continue to flow for the next four decades.
However, continued development of North Sea oil will have to rely on competent decision making from Westminster. Comparison of the words and deeds of successive UK governments with those of the Norwegians gives a clear idea of the model that should be followed. Recall that in 2011 the Cameron government hiked tax rates on North Sea oil production, thus threatening future investments in the sector and local employment. In 2007, foot-dragging by Westminster lead to the abandonment of a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project centered at Peterhead. Successful implementation of CCS, with BP playing a major role, could have had the potential to develop as an enhanced oil recovery project utilizing anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the North Sea. But where was Westminster?
Given I grew up in Lanarkshire, I was always fully aware of the role of the steel industry in the local economy. A trip up to Glasgow on the train from Carluke took you past Ravenscraig, Hallside and the old Clyde Iron works. I knew plenty of steelworkers, from laborers to metallurgists. I also knew that the flourishing North Sea oil industry had a voracious appetite for steel, not just for platform construction but for pipeline transmission systems and related infrastructure. When the Ravenscraig steelworks was being threatened with closure, and Tom McAlpine was busy with the “Save Scottish Steel” campaign, I well remember feeling the ludicrousness of the entire situation. So many of my friends’ fathers, and elder brothers, were steelworkers; at one time I expected to maybe become a metallurgist, too. I saw the offshore industry demanding steel. Yet Ravenscraig and the Scottish steel industry were essentially euthanized. Had Scotland become independent in the 1970s then I am convinced that, to this day, domestically produced steel would be being used for North Sea infrastructure. Families and communities would not have been torn apart. If we really are “Better Together”, why was this deindustrialization allowed to happen?

Scotland, Enhanced Oil Recovery & Carbon Capture and Storage

October 20, 2011

I am not even remotely surprised at the Longannet carbon capture and storage (CCS) project being killed. Westminster’s cost share for developing the proposed technology was £1 billion. I would wager that implementing the sort of CCS technology envisaged for the Longannet project, post-combustion CO2 capture, even if it could be successfully developed, would exceed ten times this amount. Additionally, another massive power plant would have to be constructed to offset the parasitic load to operate Longannet’s CCS, NOx, SO2 and particulate pollution control systems. There are alternatives that utilize coal such as IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) power plants, essentially pre-combustion CO2 capture systems, that present better choices (although they have technical challenges, too).
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, was critical of the decision and was quoted as saying, “Oil revenues are running at record levels, our offshore industry has a key role to play in generating jobs, skills and wealth for decades to come, we are leading the revolution in clean, green energy and we can and should be at the forefront of pioneering carbon capture technology.” True, I couldn’t agree more. Richard Dixon of WWF Scotland was reported as stating, “Lots of valuable research and planning has been done around the Longannet proposal, which could put Scotland in pole position to have a CCS scheme at the existing gas-fired power station at Peterhead or the recently-consented gas-fired power station at Cockenzie.” Agreement here, too, but with a twist.
Focus on carbon capture at Peterhead using IGCC; that power plant is already on a high pressure pipeline, too. Exploit this pre-existing pipeline infrastructure, with appropriate modifications and extensions, to transmit the generated CO2 to depleted oil reservoirs offshore – essentially a reversal of the previous flow. Inject the CO2 into these depleted fields for enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Partner with BP or a smaller company like Apache. OK, they are not a “major” but they do CO2-EOR already, in Saskatchewan, and have a presence in the North Sea. Statoil have been storing CO2 under the North Sea for years at Sleipner. This can be done.
Rather than the expensively captured CO2 being injected solely for geologic sequestration, Peterhead’s CO2 would then be a bulk commodity used to extend the life of existing oil fields in the North Sea. Recoverable reserves would be massively expanded wherever CO2-EOR technology could be successfully applied, as has been demonstrated at SACROC (Texas) and the Weyburn-Midale (Saskatchewan) oil fields. Future production from already depleted fields could conceivably be more than doubled, as happened at SACROC after CO2 injection began. Although the CO2 would be recaptured for reuse, some will become trapped in the subsea pore space. Eventually, exhausted reservoirs can be devoted exclusively to CO2 geologic storage. So not only would Scotland derive the benefit from massively extended oil production through EOR, CCS will occur, too.
I well remember the ’70s and hearing the propaganda organs of the British state spewing nonsense about the oil being depleted before the end of the century. I was suspicious then, but I have the knowledge and experience now to know that their nonsense was in fact bare-faced lies. Given the advances in the science and engineering that underpins oil production, I have no doubt that at least the same volume of North Sea oil that has been produced up to 2011 can be extracted over the coming half century.
Some interesting links: