Should there be a moratorium on drilling oil and gas wells to the west of Shetland, or indeed in the North Sea? That is the question that Greenpeace has answered in the affirmative with its direct action on the Stena Carron off Bressay this week. But it will take a lot more than a stunt to convince people here that work on offshore exploration should simply be brought to a halt.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has cast a long shadow over the activities of the massive, and massively profitable oil companies. The perception that they are seeking to extract hydrocarbons from ever more inaccessible and therefore more dangerous wells has become received wisdom. It is only partly true, and it is manifestly not the case to the west of Shetland. Here, in most cases, the water depth is nothing like as great as that in the Gulf. More fundamentally, the UK regulatory regime is much more rigorous than it is in the United States. These are not reasons to be complacent, and neither the government nor the industry can be accused of that. The House of Commons energy and climate change committee is conducting an inquiry into the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon and the industry itself, with the government and the unions, is carrying out its own review through the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG).
While the demand for carbon-based fuels is as rampant as it is, companies will seek to drill for oil and gas. If we want to cut back on our use of such energy sources, we need to change behaviour in the marketplace, not target the suppliers and hang pods from the anchor chains of ships that aren’t going anywhere anyway.