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Climate / Oil and gas needed for managed transition to net zero, says council leader

The Cambo field lies 125 kilometres north west of Shetland. Image: Siccar Point

SHETLAND needs further fossil fuel developments as well as renewable energy projects, on and offshore in the managed transition to net-zero.

That is the view of Shetland Islands Council leader Steven Coutts, who also said the oil tap could and should not be turned off overnight as future oil and gas exploration could be done with significantly smaller carbon footprint.

Coutts was speaking to Shetland News following last week’s announcement by Shell that the oil giant was pulling out of Cambo in which it holds a 30 per cent stake.

Over recent months Cambo has hardly ever been out of the national, and indeed international news, as it increasingly became the political battleground on which the country’s response to the climate crisis was fought.

Even first minster Nicola Sturgeon is now on record saying that Cambo should not be developed, a major change in Scotland’s energy policy – although the power lays with the UK Government.

SIC political leader Steven Coutts.
SIC leader Steven Coutts: ‘It has to be a managed decline.’ Photo: Shetland News

While some analysts describe Shell’s withdrawal from Cambo as the deathblow for the oil and gas field 70 miles to the west of Shetland, others, including developer Siccar Point Energy, insist the project is needed to guarantee the UK’s energy security.

Often described as “a Shetland oil field” Cambo’s impact on the isles’ economy will be limited.

The Cambo field, which lies in 1,100 metres of water, is expected to produce 170 million barrels of oil equivalent during its 25-year operational life. The oil will be produced, stored and shipped via offshore loading and it will bypass Sullom Voe Terminal.

The produced gas will be used to power the floating production storage and offloading vessel (FPSO) while the remainder of the gas will be exported via an existing pipeline system to the terminal at Sullom Voe.

Coutts acknowledged the oil would not be piped to Shetland but added that “all the associated work with developing the field has a positive knock on effect on the isles”.

An option the council is particularly keen to explore is the electrification of offshore facilities through onshore renewable energy projects such as the Viking Energy wind farm currently under construction.

“The oil and gas industry is really important to Shetland, it supports around 1,000 jobs in the community, so anything that is happening in the sector is important to us,” Coutts said.

In its environmental impact assessment for the Cambo field, Siccar Point said that in the worst-case scenario the oil field’s carbon footprint over its lifetime could be as much as 3.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

This, however, could be reduced as it will have “built electrification ready to take power from renewable energy when feasible”, according to a Siccar Point statement.

The company said it is working with other oil and gas companies on “the challenges of electrification”, while it is also a steering group member of the ORION clean energy project.

“We are very much committed to the transition to net zero, but it has to be a transition that is right for the climate, the economy and society in Shetland as well, so it has to be a managed transition, we cannot immediately turn off the oil and gas taps,” Coutts insisted.

“We are clear that the oil and gas industry’s relative role will decline, but it has to be a managed decline, it is not a binary choice – we need to transition and we need to do it appropriately.”