Activists from Extinction Rebellion at a previous climate change demonstration in Hyde Park central London in April (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
24 May 2022

Eco-activists ‘could undermine energy security and hinder net-zero effort’

24 May 2022

The UK’s leading offshore energy body has warned that environmental activists could undermine the country’s energy security and hinder its efforts to reach net zero.

Protests, legal action and publicity stunts by organisations including Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and Greenpeace may deter investment in the North Sea and set back the UK’s efforts to cut emissions, according to Offshore Energies UK (OEUK).

Addressing colleagues at the OEUK’s annual conference, held in Aberdeen, on Tuesday, chief executive Deirdre Michie said attempts by pressure groups to block further oil and gas investment in UK waters would make the country increasingly dependent on other countries for energy, which could include Russia.

Activists have refuted her comments, claiming it is the country’s dependence on fossil fuels that undermines energy security, not the people highlighting the problem.

Ms Michie emphasised the role of oil and gas-derived energy and products for British consumers, noting that emissions are driven by a country’s infrastructure, and not by the source of its fuels.

“Our conference today follows months of disruption, protests and legal actions involving groups like Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, Greenpeace and others,” she said.

“It’s no irony to say that we are aligned with their long-term vision of a low-carbon UK, but we do disagree with their approach as to how we get there, because the actions they’ve been taking – headline-grabbing but damaging – are another risk to investor confidence.”

OEUK claims the UK has 32 million petrol and diesel vehicles, 24 million homes reliant on gas boilers, and 35 power stations that use gas to make 40% of the country’s power, which Ms Michie said “does absolutely need to change”.

“But – and this is not an excuse – those changes will take time – so, for some decades to come, much of our energy will inevitably come from oil and gas,” she added.

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of Offshore Energies UK (OEUK/PA)

“Of course we do have a choice as to where that oil and gas comes from. We could cut production and increase imports, intensifying our reliance on other countries. But, as the Ukraine crisis shows, that’s not a great option.

“Or we could instead choose to invest in the oil and gas resources in our own backyard.”

Ms Michie claimed that, if pressure groups were “to get their way”, it would make the UK more dependent on other countries for oil and gas which would “destroy tens of thousands of other jobs”.

“It would cost our country and consumers billions of pounds in import bills,” she continued.

“And here is the irony – it would actually increase global emissions as we would have to import fuels with a higher carbon footprint rather than use what we have produced locally.”

Ms Michie urged politicians, policymakers and pressure groups to work with OEUK in the decades to come.

The organisation formerly known as Oil and Gas UK has done more than most to get us into this mess. No wonder their solution is to double down on the fossil fuels that caused the problem in the first place

A spokesman for Greenpeace UK said: “It’s our dependence on fossil fuels that’s undermining our energy security, not the activists highlighting the problem.

“It’s fossil fuels that are giving us budget-busting energy bills, funding (Vladimir) Putin’s war, and fuelling megadroughts and record-breaking heatwaves all over the world.

“The quickest way to boost our energy security is to fix our energy-wasting homes and make the most of cheap renewables like solar and wind, not drill new oil and gas wells that will take years to develop.

“The organisation formerly known as Oil and Gas UK has done more than most to get us into this mess.

“No wonder their solution is to double down on the fossil fuels that caused the problem in the first place.”

A spokeswoman from Extinction Rebellion quoted UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said: “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”

She added: “Those protesting for change should take comments like this as a compliment – it means what we’re doing is working and the fossil fuel industry is desperately trying to save face as concern over the climate crisis only intensifies among the general public.”

The activist group claimed that a study last week found nearly half of existing fossil fuel production sites will need to close early if the UK is to keep within 1.5C of warming.

Just Stop Oil members said: “It is beyond ironic that Offshore Energies UK seeks to blame climate activists for the UK Government’s energy security failure, when they represent the very industry that has lobbied governments for decades to delay climate action and kept us dependent on toxic oil and gas.

“Such actions will soon be viewed as criminal and those who have undertaken them will be prosecuted.

“The Government needs to focus on insulation, demand reduction and renewables as the most cost-effective way of meeting climate targets and reducing UK reliance on fossil fuels that fund wars and cause destitution.

“It’s a no-brainer and the oil and gas industry can squeal all they like but either the industry dies or we all perish.”

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