Petropolitics – 2019 style

As I write this in Late November 2019, we are in the middle of the oddest British general election campaign I can recall. It is by no means clear what the outcome is going to be, and the choice seems to be choosing an irrelevant option or picking a party that might be the least damaging.

We are in an era defined by what (or who) people are against, not what they are for. Debate is framed by blaming the “others” for what they have done/will do and simply stating that you are for the opposite of that. None of the political parties offer policies that stack up using the accepted logic or economics of the late 20’th century. Nor are they willing to justify them in those terms. This is a dangerous time where sub-groups (old, young, migrants, followers of religions, business owners, workers, environmentalists, the fossil fuel industry, etc.) are at risk of being pitted against one another – each blaming the other for causing the situation they believe is comming. Fearful that one group has stolen the others’ hope.

We are in globally unstable times. Perhaps energy supply is a contributory factor.

The UK became a net exporter of Oil in 1979 and our economy boomed. In 2005 we became an importer again. Things became bleaker. Shale Oil has recently led to the USA becoming self-sufficient for the first time since the second world-war. China is an importer of energy.

The USA have no energy-related interest to protect by managing global tensions but perhaps China now does. Could this be part of the reason that the world feels less stable?  Look across Europe, North and South America, Hong-Kong Australia and the Arab World and see how divisive and “entitled” the politics and associated direct-action has become.

One area where there is broad agreement, however, is on climate change. We are in a net carbon zero goal-setting race. And we’re in good company – other countries are falling over themselves to do likewise (with notable exceptions of course).

This is a topic that the world has rallied around to fight a common “enemy”. Big themes (such as the previous “war on terror”) can be used to justify the case for actions that are irrational if viewed using other frameworks – such as logic, or economics.

Is it right that we permit large nations to pollute our planet and if not, how can we stop it? As an example, today’s FT reports that the Permian basin is set to flare 7BCM of associated gas this year – for comparison, the whole UK gas sector produces 45BCM per year.

Weighing up the pro’s and con’s of reduced carbon emissions, understanding the winners and losers and the national self-interests is not easy, and the result will not be determined only by logic and economics. Politics and the opinions of the uninformed could be decisive. And disastrous.

Currently, anyone expressing a view other than that we should halt emissions and reverse climate change is lambasted. The Oil and Gas industry needs to be careful to understand and react to the political climate (i.e. the opinions of others) and not rely on the logic of days-past and the economic models from the 70’s. Lip service, ignorance or faux-concern is the wrong approach.

We risk losing the license to operate in the UK and this will damage us all.

Published by

Gareth Davies

Entrepreneur, Management Consultant, Technologist - Interested in all things Upstream Oil and Gas, New Ventures and Projects.

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