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The Threat of an Unjust Transition is Looming Over Scotland

IT’S undeniable that we must transition from fossil fuels to renewables. It must, though, be at a pace which allows us to adapt and – most importantly – to make that transition.

In my East Lothian constituency – as in many other areas – the wind turbines are already on the hills, with more being added and with older ones now being replaced. Solar panelling between columns is coming and offshore turbines are visible and increasing in number almost daily, as the new sources of renewable power takes shape.

But that requires sending trucks into the Lammermuirs using petrol and ships in the Forth using marine diesel. Plastics are a core part of many renewables, whether in panelling, blades, wiring or other components, so oil will be required for quite some time to come and it makes sense to use our own resource rather than import another nations’ product. Bringing it in from across the seas when its off your shores is daft and damaging.

The pace and scale of the transition, along with the way in which it’s done is the issue. The Tories wants to extract every last drop of oil and gas as speedily as possible from the North Sea, which makes no provision for Scotland’s economic interests and is simply a plan for burning up our planet.

Similarly, we also have to provide for the workers and communities who require to make the transition. Those people and places have been the bedrock of the oil and gas industry. It’s not just that we owe them for past efforts – they are the base for the skills needed for the new world we’re entering.

That was why, in last week’s parliamentary debate on the Petroleum Licensing Bill, the Alba Party moved for guarantees on how continued extraction of oil would be done and for protection for existing jobs. If that’s not done, then we harm ourselves and punish our own.

Carbon capture and storage is untested but should be tried as the technology is being created and the potential gain is massive. Scotland is blessed with the geology of the North Sea and stands to benefit not simply from what it means for its own carbon but what it can offer for storing that of other nations.

Similarly, as there’s logic in using our own oil resource rather than importing, it’s even more important to use our own refinery capacity rather than ship it around the world while importing the refined product.

Alba’s amendments weren’t heeded and as things stand Scotland will again lose out both in the bounty of North Sea oil and the transition to renewables. It’s why the efforts to demand support for the Acorn project in the north-east of Scotland and the protection of the refinery in Grangemouth are essential. Otherwise, it’ll be an unjust transition for Scotland and her workers.

SO far, despite parties falling over themselves to commit to the North Sea, there’s been almost total silence on Grangemouth. The threat to the refinery has been growing and has been known of in government circles for several years. Yet the threat has been hidden and actions to secure it are in inverse proportions to the rising danger.

The attitude of the UK Government is to be expected. It simply says the refinery’s closure is a commercial decision, which of course it is. But governments have the levers to influence and overrule. They have fiscal policies to incentivise and tax powers to penalise.

If they wished, they could make it economically attractive to refine in Grangemouth and the UK and costly to do so abroad.

Moreover, the plant is profitable and suggestions that it isn’t are simply false. However, lack of investment has meant it isn’t as commercially attractive as it should be. That can be addressed by restarting the hydrocracker, which would increase profitability threefold. It’s time the UK Government opened its wallet and spent some of what they’ve gained from Scottish oil on a vital part of the Scottish economy.

The Scottish Government has fewer powers and far less financial resource but its support for the retention of the refinery must be stated and unequivocally so. It must be visible and vocal, which so far it hasn’t been.

It cannot argue for the future of the North Sea and accede to the closure of Grangemouth. Socially and economically, it’ll be calamitous. While the DWP may pay the giros, it’s the Scottish Government who’ll have to foot the bill for wider costs for the community and country.

The suggestion of Grangemouth be a site for biofuels is laudable. It’s welcomed by the workers but it would neither be immediate nor capable of saving the refinery as commercial use of biofuels at scale is still a long way off.

The current proposal is to close the refinery in 2025. Biofuels will still be blue sky thinking at that stage but to be in the game for refining biofuels there needs to be a working refinery.

Any suggestion that it is environmentally better to see Grangemouth shut is absurd. Of course, there are emissions from the plant. But they’ll be dwarfed by what comes when oil requires to be tankered out and then shipped back in. An average supertanker uses 20,000 gallons of marine diesel per day. Multiply that by thousands of sailings and the push for net zero is badly damaged.

It’s not just on the Forth but the Clyde, too, that the emissions will be spewing out, along with the risk of spillage or accident. Increased imports to Finnart in Argyll, where there’s a pipeline to Grangemouth, will mean more many more supertankers clouding the environment.

That’s why Scottish oil must be refined in Scotland’s refinery.

 

(First published in The National on 26.02.24)

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