Fossil fuel interests sit at the heart of land-grab for energy transition in Scotland

Heavily-industrialised Aberdeen Harbour.
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A ‘green’ energy land-grab is underway in a poor neighbourhood in Scotland for the so-called energy transition. Naturally, in keeping with its vile colonial history, the fossil fuel industry is at its helm.

As previously reported, Scotland is in the process of establishing an Energy Transition Zone (ETZ). This will be sited adjacent to the harbour in Aberdeen. The industrial development area aims to attract investment from low carbon and renewable industries. However, developers intend to site part of the zone on the precious final green space of the deprived neighbourhood of Torry.

Moreover, the Canary showed how the project itself will provide a fraction of the jobs needed in the transition away from Aberdeen’s North Sea oil and gas industry. If the ETZ won’t benefit the local community and workforce, who is the energy transition programme really for?

Of course, it’s another case of old guard oil and gas hijacking the green transition for its own vested economic ends.

An oil tycoon shaping the energy transition

While the marginalised residents of Torry are losing out, wealthy capitalists are cashing in. This ‘green energy’ industrial zone is arguably the vanity project of Scottish oil and gas tycoon and billionaire Ian Wood.

In 2019, Aberdeen City Council, Invest Aberdeen, and Opportunity North East (ONE) commissioned a ‘feasibility study’ for the ETZ. Invest Aberdeen is a business partnership between Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council with the express mission of drawing private investment into the region.

Meanwhile, ONE is the brainchild of Wood and a similar private sector-led body, which has boldly described its remit as a:

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catalyst driving transformational change to diversify north east Scotland’s economy.

Given the £25m in seed-funding Wood injected into the organisation, it’s perhaps no wonder the oil tycoon sits as its chair.

In response to the study, in March 2020 the city council rezoned the site. They did so to remove the green belt status from the community park and farm in Torry. This paved the way for the ETZ.

Alongside the UK and Scottish governments, ONE set up Energy Transition Zone Ltd in 2021 to spearhead the project. Wood is also the chair of this industry group.

Maximising oil and gas extraction

Wood’s role in a supposedly ‘green’ energy project is telling. Ian Wood and his family sit at number 98 on the Sunday Times Rich List 2023. At the time of publication, they were also the 1725th richest family in the world. The family have primarily made their fortune of £1.82bn through the oil and gas industry.

In a 2021 article for the Courier, Wood shamelessly plugged his view that:

we cannot simply turn off the oil and gas industry

He regularly pens articles for multiple news outlets, and has lobbied Scottish ministers through private phone calls and in-person meetings.

Moreover, if his media platform and political influence in Scotland wasn’t enough, Wood was the mastermind behind a key piece of UK legislation.

In 2013, the coalition government commissioned the billionaire’s Wood Group to produce a report on offshore oil and gas recovery. It contained a recommendation that the government controversially adopted into the Infrastructre Act 2015, which states that the government must maximise “the economic recovery of UK petroleum”.

Indeed, squeezing every last drop of oil, gas and profit out of a waning industry appears to be the point of his illustrious new ‘green’ industrial zone.

Oil and gas interests in ETZ projects

Given that Wood is essentially the architect of this profiteering ‘energy transition’ scheme, it tracks that North Sea fossil fuel majors also have their oily mitts all over it.

Naturally, a carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility at an industrial-scale gas-fired power-plant would therefore be right at home in the ETZ. CCS refers to a nascent technology by which carbon emissions are captured at industrial installations. The greenhouse gas is then stored by burying it deep underground. This removes potential CO2 from the atmosphere.

Scottish energy supplier SSE and the Norwegian oil and gas giant Equinor – of climate-ruinous Rosebank infamy – are leading the Peterhead Power Station CCS project. The CCS plant will pipe carbon dioxide emissions through disused gas pipelines. The operators will inject the greenhouse gas into emptied oil and gas reservoirs, in the rock bed beneath the North Sea.

Meanwhile, climate criminal BP is also part-funding another vaguely-named project which will sit at the heart of the ETZ. The Energy Incubator and Scale Up Hub (EISH) will be a 3000m2 complex. This will be used for manufacturing and research into ‘low carbon’ technologies. Alongside economic development agency Scottish Enterprise, the oil giant is ploughing £2m into the hub.

Yet even the ETZ’s plans to become Aberdeen’s “wind campus” has fossil fuel fingerprints all over it.

Wind power for the fossil fuel industry?

Peterhead Power Station CCS developer SSE is also constructing the Viking Wind Farm on Shetland. In June, the Guardian reported that fellow CCS developer Equinor was weighing up sourcing energy from the onshore wind installation to power Rosebank.

Of course, the ETZ is aiming to facilitate the expansion of Scotland’s offshore wind. In the race to electrify offshore oil and gas, could other fossil fuel rigs pilfer power from new wind projects?

In 2020, oil-funded Aberdeen University authored an instructive report to this effect. It suggests that Wood views this as a golden opportunity to extend the life of Scotland’s oil heartland. The report details the conclusions of an industry conference held at the University of Aberdeen in 2019.

The Scottish local authority was a key funder for the resulting written summary. The report was informatively titled Powering Offshore Oil and Gas with Marine Renewables, which was produced with “a great deal of help” from ONE. Notably, the report advocates for offshore renewables to supply power to the fossil fuel industry:

if taking advantage of a niche market in providing power to offshore oil and gas in order to develop marine renewables is one good reason to promote the use of marine renewable in oil and gas, then a second good reason is that of reducing the carbon footprint of the oil and gas industry itself.

In short, oil and gas industry beneficiaries want Scotland’s marine renewables to become an accomplice in this blatant greenwashing.

Lifeline for fossil fuels

Consequently, far from aiding Scotland’s transition away from dirty fossil fuels, the ETZ is throwing the industry a lifeline – and the planet a de facto death sentence. Moreover, the green window-dressing of fossil fuel firms is running roughshod over the community of Torry.

Ultimately, the oil-funded political class are more interested in extending the life of fossil fuels than the lives of their constituents. It’s high time local councils and national government put working class communities before capitalist interests.

Feature image via Mike Pennington/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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