The Unjust Transition – 28 February 2024


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 East Lothian as in many other areas the 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 source of renewable power takes shape.

But doing that requires sending trucks into the Lammermuirs using petrol and ships in the Forth using marine diesel. Just as importantly are the plastics which 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’s why 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 it, along with the way in which it’s done is the issue. The Tories desire to extract every last drop as speedily as possible 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 that transition. Those peoples and places have been the bedrock of the oil and gas industry. It’s not just that we owe them for past efforts but more importantly 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 it should be tried as the technology is being created and the potential gain is massive. Scotland’s blessed by 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 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 whilst importing the refined product.

Those amendments weren’t heeded and as things stand currently stand Scotland will again lose out both in the bounty of North Sea oil and will suffer in the transition to renewables. It’s why the efforts to demand support for the Acorn project in the Northeast 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 indeed been known in government circles for at least several years. Yet the threat has been hidden and actions to secure it in inverse proportions to the rising danger.

The attitude of the UK Government is to be expected. They simply say it’s 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 whilst costly to do so abroad.

Moreover, the plant is profitable with suggestions that it isn’t are simply false. However, lack of investment has meant that it isn’t as commercially attractive as it should be. That can be addressed though by restarting the hydrocracker increasing profitability threefold. The UK Government netted £8 billion in tax receipts from the North Sea last year and anticipate £6.1 billion this year. The cost for the hydrocracker is in the few millions not the many billions. 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 less powers and far less financial resource. But their support for the retention of the Refinery must be stated and unequivocally so. They must be visible and vocal and which so far, they haven’t. They cannot argue for the future of the North Sea and accede to the closure of Grangemouth. Socially and economically, it’ll be calamitous. Whilst the DWP may pay the giros, it’s the Scottish Government who’ll have to foot the bill for wider costs for community and country.

The suggestion that Grangemouth be a site for biofuels is laudable. It’s welcomed by the workers but it’s neither immediate nor capable of saving the Refinery. Commercial use of biofuels at scale is still a long way off and the need for a refinery for the products in the future. The current proposal’s to close the Refinery in 2025. Biofuels will still be blue sky thinking at that stage. To be in the game for refining biofuels there needs to be a working refinery.

Any suggestion that its environmentally better to see it 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 the thousands of sailings and the push for Net Zero is badly damaged.

It’s not just on the Forth but the Clyde 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, means the Bonnie Banks will see many more supertankers carrying their load and clouding the environment.

Its why Scottish oil must be refined in Scotland’s Refinery.