Shell Pulls Out Of Cambo Oil Field Project

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Was it only last week that Shell CEO Ben van Beurden was telling anyone who would listen that his company needs to participate in more oil field developments like the proposed Cambo project so it can earn enough money to fund its transition to a low carbon business model? Yes, in fact, we checked and our article on that topic went live just 6 days ago. It now appears van Beurden has no idea what is going on inside his own company.

 Cambo No Go

Things can change in a heartbeat in the oil business, apparently. The Guardian reports that Shell has now announced it won’t pursue the Cambo project after all. Shell was planning to develop the oil field near the Shetland Islands in cooperation with the private equity backed fossil fuel explorer Siccar Point, but says the business case for the project was weak and so it has decided not to go ahead with it. “After comprehensive screening of the proposed Cambo development, we have concluded the economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time, as well as having the potential for delays,” Shell said.

The Cambo development was fiercely opposed by climate activists, including Greenpeace, which had threatened to sue to prevent the project from going forward. Lawyers from ClientEarth, an environmental law charity, wrote to Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, just before the start of last month’s COP26 summit to warn against approving projects such as the Cambo oilfield, which is said relied on outdated climate information.

Tessa Khan, director of Uplift, which is coordinating the Stop Cambo campaign, said, “The widespread public and political pressure is what’s made Cambo untenable. There is now broad understanding that there can be no new oil and gas projects anywhere if we’re going to maintain a safe climate.” Philip Evans of Greenpeace UK added, “This really should be the deathblow for Cambo. With yet another key player turning its back on the scheme the government is cutting an increasingly lonely figure with their continued support for the oil field. It’s time Boris Johnson put this distraction aside and got on with the urgent task of delivering a just transition for offshore workers and their communities to the green industries of the future.”

Connor Schwartz, climate lead at Friends of the Earth, said, “We have to see the end of North Sea projects as well as all new fossil fuel extraction. There is no future in them. Carrying on risks more than just balance sheets, it makes the path to 1.5C even harder.” Ed Miliband, Labour’s climate and net zero secretary, chimed in, saying, “Shell have woken up to the fact that Cambo is the wrong choice. It’s long past time for the government to do so.”

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said she did not think the project should go forward without a full climate impact assessment. Government approval for exploration at the site was first given in 2001. The Cambo development area is 78 miles (125 km) west of the Shetlands, in waters up to 1,000 meters (3300 feet) deep.

The International Energy Agency issued a report in May saying no new oil and gas exploration and development should be conducted after this year if the world if global heating is to remain at less than 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels. Meeting that target was the goal the UK set for last month’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Just as the US government has decided to lease over 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas companies, despite its pledge to lower US carbon emissions, the UK is talking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to climate targets and future fossil fuel exploration.

Press On Regardless

Siccar Point Energy, Shell’s partner in the Cambo project, vowed to press on and will seek alternative ways to continue exploration at Cambo. Jonathan Roger, chief executive of Siccar, said, “Whilst we are disappointed at Shell’s change of position, we remain confident about the qualities of a project that will not only create over 1,000 direct jobs as well as thousands more in the supply chain, but also help ease the UK’s transition to a low carbon future through responsibly produced domestic oil instead of becoming even more dependent on imports with a relatively higher carbon intensity.”

A Shell spokesperson added, “Before taking investment decisions on any project, we conduct detailed assessments to ensure the best returns for the business and our shareholders. After comprehensive screening of the proposed Cambo development, we have concluded the economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time, as well as having the potential for delays.” (Notice how the needs of the environment are deliberately excluded from that analysis.)

“However, continued investment in oil and gas in the UK remains critical to the country’s energy security. As Shell works to help accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy, we remain committed to supplying UK customers with the fuels they still rely on, including oil and gas. We believe the North Sea — and Shell in it — have a critical role to play in the UK’s energy mix, supporting the jobs and skills to enable a smooth transition to Britain’s low-carbon future.”

The UK government announced in March it would allow oil drillers to keep exploring the North Sea for new reserves despite its pledge to reduce UK carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, so long as those explorations passed a “climate compatibility” test in addition to the existing environmental checks.

The Takeaway

Extracting more oil, gas, and coal is a death sentence for humanity. Our little blue lifeboat at the edge of the galaxy will continue to revolve around the sun for billions of years more, but unless we end our reliance on fossil fuels, we won’t be around to notice.

Will breaking our dependence on high carbon energy be difficulty and will it  disrupt many of the comfortable patterns we have become accustomed to? Yes and yes. But inconvenience is no justification for making the Earth uninhabitable for humans. Groups like Greenpeace need our full support if they are going to be able to resist the intense pressure from the fossil fuel crowd to “Drill, baby, drill.”

Humanity has found ways to transition away from asbestos and Freon and DDT. There is no reason to resist the move away from fossil fuels just because it will involve some lifestyle changes. Humans are incredibly adaptable and resilient but they need food and water and ambient temperatures of less than 110 degrees Fahrenheit to survive. And yet we continue to fritter precious time away because change is too hard. The “It’s all about me” attitude so prevalent today is wrong. Dead wrong. It’s all about us and unless we realize that in time to alter our behavior, we are doomed by our own ignorance to extinction.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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