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Energy / Councillor suggests West of Shetland electrification push could be ‘greenwashing’

The SIC's lead officer on there Orion project Douglas Irvine and Green councillor Alex Armitage.

A LOCAL Green councillor has questioned the commitment of oil and gas companies towards electrifying their West of Shetland assets – saying he does not trust the industry “to lead us to a low carbon future”.

Alex Armitage, who represents Shetland South, alleged that the joint announcement this week from BP, Equinor and Ithaca Energy could just be “greenwashing”.

Greenwashing is a term used for when companies or organisations may not be so environmentally conscious as their marketing and outward appearance makes them appear.

But the team behind the ORION Project, which aims to turn Shetland in a “clean energy island”, has welcomed the development.

Shetland Islands Council’s lead officer Douglas Irvine said decarbonising the oil and gas industry is a key ambition of ORION.

BP, Equinor and Ithaca Energy announced this week that they had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to explore electrification options for their West of Shetland oil and gas interests.

It follows formation of the West of Shetland Electrification (WoSE) group, acting on behalf of the joint venture partners of the Clair, Rosebank and Cambo fields.

Of those fields only the Clair is currently producing, piping oil into Sullom Voe Terminal.

Powering oil platforms from ‘green’ energy from Shetland has long been mooted as one way of reducing emissions from the oil and gas industry, potentially from onshore wind.

Offshore wind has also been suggested as a potential electrification option.

Armitage, who has campaigned against the development of the Cambo field, said it is “interesting that they said they are ‘exploring’ electrification rather than actually committing to it”.

“When we stop burning fossil fuels, we’ll need to continue extracting oil at a very small percentage of what we are currently doing, and I believe that that extraction should be powered by electricity – so yes, I’m in favour of the principle here,” he continued.

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“But the economic model that the oil and gas companies are working on, is one that depends on burning fossil fuels at totally unsustainable rates. That economic model needs to change entirely if we’re going to prevent climate, ecological, economic and social collapse this century.

“That’s why I’m against new oil and gas expansion. I’d rather new offshore renewables would be used to heat homes, power buses and heat and light greenhouses, rather than extract oil for burning.”

Armitage said the reason why future oil production will be needed is for “petrochemicals such as medicines, non single-use plastics – not for combustion”.

Responding to the news this week, Irvine said the MoU between West of Shetland oil and gas field owners appears to be a “positive step” towards the ambition of decarbonising the North Sea.

“The council will continue to work with the oil and gas industry to encourage cleaner working practices and the sharing of infrastructure such as power cables from Shetland and any onshore works that are necessary,” he said.

“This approach will reduce the number of cables on the seabed and limit the onshore development.”

Full electrification would require in the region of 200MW of power.

The Viking Energy wind farm for instance, which is currently being built in Shetland’s central mainland, will have a generating capacity of 443MW.

But offshore wind farms proposed around Shetland have a combined total output which extends into the gigawatts.

This week developers of three proposed offshore wind farms to the east of Shetland visited the isles.

Separately there is the INTOG leasing process, which aims to award offshore wind energy contracts to decarbonise the North Sea oil and gas industry.

The ORION Project describes itself as a “strategic framework that aims to shape Shetland as a world leading green energy island”.

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