Wildfires at Manavgat, Antalya, Turkey – 1st August 2021

Authored by James Marriott of Platform drawing on the collective experience of so many others in Platform and the multiple organisations we’ve collaborated with.

Prompted by an invitation from the Climate Cultures Festival[1] in Berlin to speak about Crude Britannia[2] and The Oil Road,[3] co-authored with Mika Minio-Paluello, I returned to the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline and the Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline[4].

Platform was among a host of groups and individuals – including The Corner House[5], Re:Common[6], Bankwatch[7], Friends of the Earth,[8] Green Alternative,[9] Kurdish Human Right Project[10] and Amnesty International[11] who worked hard to prevent construction of these pipelines between 2001 and 2017. We got close to stopping the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, closer than we knew at the time. And we did ensure that some changes to the engineering and legal construction took place. But in the end this oil machine running through the mountains was opened in June 2006.

I took the chance to link up with allies Manana Kochladze in Georgia,  and Elena Gerebizza in Italy, and reworked a passage describing the journey of oil from the Caspian to Germany:

Map of The Oil Road – showing the passage of oil from Azerbaijan to Germany

 

‘DEUTSCHE TRANSALPINE OELLEITUNG GMBH’, proclaims the sign on the chain-link gates of a compound just north of the city limits of Ingolstadt, Bayern. This is the property of DTO, based in Munchen – one of three companies that own the Transalpine pipeline that runs from Italy, through Austria to Germany. The seven massive oil tanks of the Lenting depot were visible from some distance as we’d cycled here, nestled alongside the area’s third refinery, known as Kosching and owned by the Swiss company Petropolus[1][12].

The sun is hot on the surrounding fields of winter wheat. Despite the rumble of the nearby E45 autobahn, the noise of passenger jets passing overhead and the roar of the gas flare from the refinery, we can hear Skylarks singing.

There is no one at the entrance cabin of the Lenting depot, but somewhere on this site somebody is watching one of the meters that register the flow of the river that runs from the middle of the Caspian Sea to Southern Germany. At precisely this time, as we idle on the roadside, other people are watching meters in other control rooms in Sangachal – Azerbaijan, Ceyhan – Turkey and San Dorglio – Italy.

It takes minutes for the pressurised oil from the Pliocene sandstone layer to move up the riser to the drill deck of the Central Azeri platform in the Caspian Sea. Within the next few hours the oil has passed through the pipe across the seabed to the Sangachal Terminal on the coast of Azerbaijan. Here it is joined by oil that has been pumped in from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. A further ten days sees it move through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, through the deserts and mountains, fields and villages of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Eastern Turkey. At Ceyhan it is loaded onto tankers. Four and half days aboard the ship and thousands of barrels are moved across the Aegean, Ionian and Adriatic seas. If this load is not delayed at the tank farm of San Dorligo near Trieste, it takes three days for the heavy liquid to be pumped over the Alps at the Plockenpass and the Hohe Tauern to Lenting. From the depot in front of us the crude passes to a refinery such as Kosching. Over a period of two days it will be broken down into heating oil, petrol or diesel – products that are then pumped and trucked onwards to factories, homes and petrol stations. Some of the crude is refined into aviation fuel and supplied to airports such as Munchen, where it might fill the tanks of a 747 bound for India. 

It takes twenty-two days for this process to run its course – for the oil to travel over 5,000 kilometres across the Earth’s surface, and for it to move from 5 kilometres below sea level to 10 kilometres above sea level; twenty-two days for geology laid down 4 million years ago to be incinerated into gas. The energy of those rocks takes seconds for the jets engines to burn. It is as though we are consuming time itself.

This machine drives forward minute by minute, hour by hour, a vast system transferring carbon from the lithosphere to the atmosphere.  

It has been fully operational for over fifteen years, since the Ceyhan terminal opened in June 2006. In that time the terminal has loaded five and half thousand tankers, carrying over three and a half billion barrels of oil, equivalent to over a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

A sizable proportion of those tankers have been aimed at Italy and the carbon has been released into the atmosphere over Germany.

 

[13]

Wildfires on Rhodos, Greece – on 1st August 2021

 

What struck me as I read this was how the world had changed since the terminal opened and The Oil Road was published in 2012.

Here was a project that was conceived during the last year of the Thatcher government, guided into reality under the Major government and was opened under the third Blair government. As we describe in Crude Britannia, BTC was fundamentally the child of BP CEO John Browne[2][14], but part-financed by a host of public and private banks in Europe, the USA, France and Germany.[3][15]

In the fifteen years since it opened many of the achievements of those UK governments have largely been discarded or forgotten. And attitudes to fossil fuels have shifted. For example on 3rd November 2021 at COP26 the UK, the US and 18 other nations signed a statement committing to end funding for foreign oil, gas and coal projects.[4][16]

But the BTC pipeline, the oil wells that fill it from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and the tankers that fan out from Ceyhan – they all continue to operate. And they are planned to operate until 2047.

Alongside this Oil Road has been built a Gas Road. The Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline[5][17] has been laid across Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania and Italy to pump gas into the Western European system – fuel for domestic stoves and power stations from Italy to Germany and beyond. Despite bitter opposition[18] – especially by citizens of Melendugno,[19] Southern Italy[6][20] – the last section of the pipe was opened only 11 months ago and is planned to drive fossil fuels into the European economy for several decades.

There are signs that the oil & gas industry is being forced to turn away from its impulse to continually expand – witness the civil society and now governmental pressure against new fields in the UK North Sea and the launch of the Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance [21]at COP26. But meanwhile this actually-existing oil system of BTC – like so many others – is set to continue to pump its carbon load into the atmosphere for another twenty-five years. The oil machine lumbers on.

And the impact of that carbon load is showing itself ever more clearly. Manana Kochladze explains to me: ‘Georgia becomes really sensitive due to climate change, in the last two years we have some fires in forests even in winter due to lack of water and snow’. In the Summer of 2021 there were wildfires throughout the regions through which the oil from the Caspian is passed on its way to Germany – in southern Turkey, Greece, southern Italy. It is as though the Oil Road is being turned into a Fire Road.

Wildfires at Otranto, Italy – 12th August 2021

How long will this continue? Will the ever-growing wild fires impact on the infrastructure itself? Or will they press so hard upon civil society and governments that they in turn will push for the system to be put out of use prior to its planned point of closure? Will there be a Just Transition to step back from The Oil Road and The Gas Road? How will it be decommissioned before its end of use? Will the pipelines be unearthed from the meadows and forests, the fields and villages, brought back into the daylight and discarded?

 

In honour of the work of  Elena Gerebiza, Nick Hildyard, Petr Hlobil, Emma Hughes, Manana Kochladze, Greg Muttitt,  Jo Ram, Sarah Shoraka, Antonio Tricarico and many others. And thanks to Ben Lennon, Mika Minio-Palluelo and Terry Macalister.

 

[1][22] The Kosching Refinery belonged to Petroplus when it went bankrupt and filed for insolvency on 24th January 2012 – after The Oil Road had been written. Kosching was acquired by the Swiss-based oil trading company, Gunvor on 24th August 2012.

[2][23] John Browne was CEO of BP from 1995 to 2007. He had previously been the head of BP Exploration & Production and was at the forefront of trying to obtain oil assets in Soviet Union just before its dissolution. After being forced to resign from BP, Browne went onto to be appointed by the Cameron-Clegg government to Lead Non-Executive Director of the Civil Service. In this role he oversaw the infamous Higher Education inquiry known as the Browne Review.

[3][24] Public banks: EBRD, World Bank/IFC, Hermes, ECGD, OPIC. Private banks: RBS, Societe Generale, Citibank, Hypovereinsbank, West LB

[4][25] https://www.worldoil.com/news/2021/11/3/cop26-us-uk-commit-to-stop-financing-foreign-oil-projects-china-abstains

[5][26] Also known by its constituent parts as the SCP, TANAP and TAP – see: https://bankwatch.org/project/southern-gas-corridor-euro-caspian-mega-pipeline

[6][27] The opposition was led by the No TAP alliance and several activists are facing court cases and requesting support for their legal costs. Please support them: https://www.facebook.com/MovimentoNoTAP

Endnotes:
  1. Climate Cultures Festival: https://www.planet-festival.de/
  2. Crude Britannia: https://www.waterstones.com/book/crude-britannia/james-marriott/terry-macalister/9780745341095#:~:text=Crude%20Britannia%3A%20How%20Oil%20Shaped%20a%20Nation%20(Hardback)&text=Taking%20the%20reader%20on%20a,soaked%20past%2C%20present%20and%20future.
  3. The Oil Road,: https://www.versobooks.com/books/1502-the-oil-road
  4. Euro-Caspian Mega Pipeline: https://bankwatch.org/project/southern-gas-corridor-euro-caspian-mega-pipeline
  5. The Corner House: http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/about/why-we-do-what-we-do
  6. Re:Common: https://www.recommon.org/en/about-us/
  7. Bankwatch: https://bankwatch.org/about/who-we-are
  8. Friends of the Earth,: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/
  9. Green Alternative,: https://greenalt.org/en/who-we-are/
  10. Kurdish Human Right Project: https://www.khrp.org/
  11. Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/?&utm_source=google&utm_medium=grant&utm_campaign=BRD_GEN_brand&utm_content=amnesty%20international
  12. [1]: #_ftn1
  13. [Image]: https://platformlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/1.8.21_Fires-rhodes-credit-giannis-Ntellakis-facebook.webp
  14. [2]: #_ftn2
  15. [3]: #_ftn3
  16. [4]: #_ftn4
  17. [5]: #_ftn5
  18. opposition: https://counter-balance.org/news/trials-of-unequals-in-italy-over-the-trans-adriatic-pipeline
  19. Melendugno,: https://www.facebook.com/MovimentoNoTAP
  20. [6]: #_ftn6
  21. Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance : https://beyondoilandgasalliance.com/
  22. [1]: #_ftnref1
  23. [2]: #_ftnref2
  24. [3]: #_ftnref3
  25. [4]: #_ftnref4
  26. [5]: #_ftnref5
  27. [6]: #_ftnref6

Just Transition Hub session underway in the Upper Hall, Govan & Linthouse Parish Church

 

“We need a massive programme of retrofitting homes”. Francis Stuart of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) is outlining his understanding of the social project that needs to take place, the transformation of pretty much the entirety of the housing stock of Scotland – and indeed the UK.

Stuart sits behind a long table and gently lays out his description of the transformation that calls to be undertaken. To his left are his fellow panellists Maria Elena Torres-Quevedo of Living Rent and Stuart Graham of the Glasgow Trades Council. Between them sits Emma Saunders who is chairing this session: ‘Airtight: Campaigns for Home Retrofits’.

I’m one of perhaps forty attendees sitting masked and scattered – at Covid-safe distances – around the upper hall of Govan & Linthouse Parish Church[1]. Polished wooden floor, white painted walls and high windows, it could be a church hall almost anywhere in Britain. We are gathered as part of the Just Transition Hub [2]taking place in the midst of the Glasgow COP 26 and coordinated by Friends of the Earth Scotland[3], Platform, the STUC[4], the TUC[5], War on Want[6] and the Just Transition Partnership[7]. Speakers include Roz Foyer, head of STUC, Sean Sweeney of Trades Unions for Energy Democracy, Silvia Ramos Luna, Secretary General, Unión Nacional de Técnicos y Profesionistas Petroleros[8] (México), Eriel Deranger of Indigenous Climate Action[9] and Derek Texeira, Unite rep at Rolls Royce. It is an impressive gathering.

The day long event is being held in several rooms of this maze of building, and through the hours participants flow in and out of its chambers, up and down its stairways. This solid edifice has at its heart the Sanctuary, a horseshoe of pews so neat and sober in dark pine, each row with a brass holder for dripping umbrellas. For generations this room must have sheltered the prayers of shipwrights and engineers’ widows. For Govan was the epicentre of the thundering world that constructed a myriad of vessels, including the oil tankers built for Shell and BP at Fairfield’s yard. There was a saying that in Govan there was nowhere you could be out of the sound of a hammer.

It is entirely fitting that this event should be held in Govan, for this area of Glasgow is synonymous with massive industrial change and workers struggles to wring justice from those changes. Govan was the epicentre of the battles of Upper Clydeside Shipbuilders Work In[10][1][11] fifty years ago and long before that Red Clydeside. That latter famed uprising of 1919 was, it is now understood, sparked not so much by workplace strikes, as by the Rent Strike of 1915. Revolt that began in the domestic space as women refused to bow to the extortionate demands of the tenement landlords.

 

Statue of Mary Barbour at the heart of Govan

 

Outside the Govan & Linthouse church stands a recently unveiled statue of Mary Barbour[2][12] who led the Rent Strike. Somehow it echoes the present challenges. A century ago the struggle for justice took place not only in the workplace – in the shipyards – but also in the home – in the tenements. Now too the struggle for a Just Transition will take place both on the offshore oil rigs and also in the insulation of houses.

Almost imperceptibly a shift in the nature of the battle against fossil fuels has taken place. The ground rules and underlying assumptions have changed over the past decades.

The Just Transition Hub in Govan reminds me of many other such gatherings – speakers behind a table, audience on scattered plastic chairs. But two such events stick out.

Raising the banner for the 1974 Oil Conference, Edinburgh

The first was The Black & White Oil Conference held from 19th to 21st August 1974 in The Poor House in central Edinburgh. It occurred over a few days during the Edinburgh International Arts Festival and brought together artists such as Joseph Beuys, thinkers such as Buckminster Fuller and politicians such as Dr Gavin Strang, MP for Edinburgh East. (Strang was at the time Under Secretary of State for Energy in the Wilson Government. He served from 7th March to 18th October 1974 under the Minister for Energy Eric Varley, whilst Tony Benn was Minister for Energy). It was all made possible by the remarkable Richard Demarco and Caroline Tisdall.

Joseph Beuys speaking at the Oil Conference, Edinburgh 1974

The ‘Oil Boom’ in the North Sea was well underway. The Forties field had been discovered four years before. The Forties Oil Pipeline from Cruden Bay to Grangemouth was under construction – and subject to several terrorist actions by the Tartan Army. And the SNP was campaigning in the two General Elections of 1974 under the slogan ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’ (these events are explored in our book Crude Britannia [13]and discussed in Black Black Oil[14]). It seems that the underlying assumption at the conference was that the oil was being extracted – that was unstoppable – and the debate was focused on what would be done upon the back of this wealth. (I would like to delve into the Demarco Archives deeper, but my suspicion is that climate change was not discussed.)

The second was Crude Operators held from 10th to 11th May 1997 in Hammersmith Unemployed Workers Centre in west London. Organised by Platform in collaboration with Corporate Watch in Oxford and assisted by Project Underground in San Francisco. The two days brought together activist from a wide spectrum of the ecological justice world: ranging from Lazarus Tamana and Ledum Mittee of MOSOP, Nigeria to Jake Molloy and Ronnie Macdonald of OILC[15], Aberdeen and from Earth First Brighton to Mark Campanale, then working in NPI investment house in The City. The high point of the event was a huge sit down feast within an installation created by John Jordan and Clare Patey.

The event took place only nine days after the 1st May General Election that had swept New Labour to power. During the conference news came that the Chairman of BP, Sir David Simon was to be appointed to be advisor to the Minister of Competitiveness in Europe at the Department of Trade & Industry. This was the zenith of ‘Blair Petroleum’, when John Brown was CEO of BP. The North Sea was booming, soon to reach its ultimate production peak in 2000. The underlying assumption at the event was that the world of oil was with us for a long time, and that our struggle was to defend human rights and resist the impact of oil upon local ecologies.[3][16] Concern about climate change was well under way as the movement built towards the coming COP 3 at Kyoto in Japan. Platform was in the midst of its 90% Crude project that called for a 90% reduction in CO2 emissions – a laughably ambitious demand at the time.

Both of these events had at their heart a ragged assemblage of speakers behind tables and scattered plastic chairs. They echo the Just Transition Hub. But this year the underlying assumption is different. Now the demise of oil seems inevitable. The oil corporations are on the back foot. How long they last is of course a matter of struggle, but there is a sense that they are dying. Several states have declared themselves signatories to the historic Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance[17], pledging to cease licensing oil extraction. Likewise the end of North Sea oil is coming. It is twenty years since production peaked. Transition is underway, now the struggle is over how to make it just.

At the heart of Stuart’s declaration that “We need a massive programme of retrofitting homes” lies a new sense that is growing in the climate movement and epitomised by the Just Transition Hub. This is that the drive for climate justice is no longer only focused on ‘Against’ – against drilling, against pipelines, against airports – but it is also focused on ‘For’ – for retrofitting, for assisting workers to retrain, for making communities and food systems more resilient to the mounting impacts of climate chaos.

In this it seems to echo historic movements such as that at Red Clydeside where the battle was both for job security and decent terms, and for housing security and fair rent.

With thanks to Euan Gibbs, Gaby Jeliazkov, Rosemary Harris, Ryan Morrison & Terry Macalister.

 

 

[1][18] https://tribunemag.co.uk/2021/07/the-upper-clyde-shipbuilders-work-in-at-50

[2][19] https://www.scottishhousingnews.com/article/commemorative-mary-barbour-statue-unveiled-on-international-womens-day

[3][20] Although exploration at the frontiers of the North Sea was being contested – Greenpeace UK launched its ‘No Fossil Fuels’ report on 12th May 1997 calling on BP to halt drilling on the Atlantic Frontier.

Endnotes:
  1. Govan & Linthouse Parish Church: https://www.govanlinthouseparish.org/
  2. Just Transition Hub : https://cop26coalition.org/peoples-summit/towards-a-just-transition-frontline-knowledge-and-visions-for-change-4/
  3. Friends of the Earth Scotland: https://foe.scot/
  4. STUC: https://stuc.org.uk/
  5. TUC: https://www.tuc.org.uk/
  6. War on Want: https://waronwant.org/
  7. Just Transition Partnership: https://foe.scot/resource/just-transition-partnership-manifesto/
  8. Unión Nacional de Técnicos y Profesionistas Petroleros: http://www.untyppcme.org/
  9. Indigenous Climate Action: https://www.indigenousclimateaction.com/
  10. Upper Clydeside Shipbuilders Work In: https://tribunemag.co.uk/2021/07/the-upper-clyde-shipbuilders-work-in-at-50
  11. [1]: #_ftn1
  12. [2]: #_ftn2
  13. Crude Britannia : https://www.waterstones.com/book/crude-britannia/james-marriott/terry-macalister/9780745341095#:~:text=Crude%20Britannia%3A%20How%20Oil%20Shaped%20a%20Nation%20(Hardback)&text=Taking%20the%20reader%20on%20a,soaked%20past%2C%20present%20and%20future.
  14. Black Black Oil: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00118sk/black-black-oil
  15. OILC: https://www.rmt.org.uk/about/industry-sectors/offshore-workers/
  16. [3]: #_ftn3
  17. Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance: https://beyondoilandgasalliance.com/
  18. [1]: #_ftnref1
  19. [2]: #_ftnref2
  20. [3]: #_ftnref3

26th Anniversary of the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 Ogoni comrades

 

 

Authored by James Marriott of Platform drawing from the collective experience of so many others in Platform and the multiple organisations we’ve collaborated with.

 

On the morning of 10th November 1995 in a Port Harcourt goal, Nigeria were murdered:

Ken Saro-Wiwa

Baribor Bera

Saturday Dobee

Nordu Eawo

Daniel Gbokoo

Barinem Kiobel

John Kpuinen

Paul Levula

Felix Nuate

 

They were all hung by the Nigerian state on a trumped up charge. But the world knew that they had been killed in order to silence a powerful campaign, of which Saro-Wiwa was the figurehead, which demanded justice for the ecological destruction of their homeland, Ogoni.

The intensity of the injustice keeps burning, the wound still bleeds.

In 1957, oil – in quantities from which profit could be generated – was discovered in the Niger Delta, in the British colony of Nigeria. Since that moment of first production there has been, day in day out, constant oil spills in the farmlands and creeks. Night after night has been ripped by the flares from the oil fields. The myriad communities through which oil is piped have been forced to see their rivers polluted. Those villages close to the oil wells have been forced to live amidst the constant roar of the gas.

In Crude Britannia[1], Lazarus Tamana – now head of MOSOP – describes growing up in the village of Bodo, in Ogoni:

‘When I was in primary school we would go to fish in the nearby waters. My house was just 200 yards away from the creek. We would finish school, drop our bags, run into the creek and use our bare hands to catch fish and mudskippers and crab and all those things.’ 

And he described the arrival of the oil machine:

‘I remember very, very vividly when the tractors were rolling in some part of Bodo. Those heavy equipments. Shell were rolling in and laying pipes and digging the ground. We used to go and see them, look at them because for us kids it was exciting. After some time we started seeing some black stuff appearing on the surface of the mangrove forests, on the creek because we’d normally go and bathe in those waters before we’d go to school in the morning.’ 

And continues:

‘There were a lot of whites because of the heavy equipment they were using and it was whites who were driving them, who were directing these things. The menial jobs like digging were done by the Nigerians.’

The first protests in Ogoni began in 1963. What followed was over three decades of destruction and growing opposition, until in 1993 an astounding 50% of the population of Ogoni took to the streets demanding Shell leave their land. The company had no option but to cease operations, but what followed was intense repression by the Nigerian state and killings by the Nigerian military. This culminated in the arrest, imprisonment and murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 Ogoni fellow activists.

 

Front page of the Daily Telegraph on the morning of November 11th 1995

I remember well the morning that the news broke. I was in Glasgow with fellow Platformer, Dan Gretton. The shock went through us like a bolt. The events around it are beautifully described in Gretton’s book ‘I You We Them’ [2]– recently reissued in paperback. Since that day Platform has endeavoured to mark each passing year and act in solidarity where possible. Over this vigil of the years, we have created works such as Remember Saro Wiwa living memorial sculpture which toured England and is now incarcerated in Lagos, Nigeria.

Some of us from Platform have travelled in Ogoni to carry out consultations and research leading to important reports such as ‘Counting the Cost’ written by Ben Amunwa. And most recently, through a Global Arts Night co-hosted by MOSOP ‘Dance the Guns to Silence III’ we commemorated the 25th Anniversary of the tragic 1995 events and the ongoing Ogoni-led struggle for reparations and justice.

Again and again we’ve been inspired by the line from Milan Kundera:

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

It is a statement that echoes the demands of the Climate Reparations movement which marched this Saturday in London. The bloc boldly declared: ‘We are hearing greenwash pledges to get to ‘Net Zero’ with techno-fixes and false solutions. Net Zero is NOT zero. To meet the UK’s fair share of 1.5C to stay alive, we need a rapid and justice-centred transition to get to real zero carbon emissions by 2030.’ The ‘Climate Reparations bloc[3]’ led the COP26 coalition march with a banner from indigenous and POC-led collective ‘Wretched of the Earth’. The banner read:

Still fighting Co2 lonialism. Your climate profits kill.

This year of 2021, the anniversary of the murder of the Ogoni 9 falls within the COP 26 conference in Glasgow. This massive gathering is obsessively focused on the future with the repeated cry of ‘the future is our hands’. But whose futures?

The battle in Glasgow is to put a halt to the investment plans of the fossil fuel corporations. To use civil society pressure, sporadically expressed through state politicians, to stop the plans of a handful of private companies to drill for oil in the North Sea, the Niger Delta and elsewhere across the planet. And a handful of private companies to mine coal in Cumbria, in West Virginia, and elsewhere across the planet. These plans can and will be stopped in the months around Glasgow and the years that follow. This can and will be done – it will be won in the streets, in parliament chambers, in the courts, in council pension fund meetings.

In the Niger Delta too, change will come. At the AGM of Shell in May this year, the CEO of the company, Ben van Beurden, intimated for the first time that the company would relinquish its onshore oil and gas fields in the Niger Delta. The moment that Shell withdraws from the Delta will be a victory, for the company will only relinquish these assets because the return on capital they provide is no longer sufficient to outweigh the constant challenge of civil society resistance.

However the oil and gas projects are unlikely to be closed down and their operations to cease, rather they will be sold on to other companies less concerned by the resistance and the questioning of these schemes in the global media. The task ahead of us all will be to keep a close scrutiny upon these oil & gas fields as they slip from the hands of high profile corporations, such as Shell, into the hands of corporations such as Vitol or private equity companies.[1][4]

And most importantly, the withdrawal of Shell from the Delta will not be the end of the destruction that is experienced by the communities of Ogoni and elsewhere. Future owners may continue to operate at such low standards, water courses may still be polluted by oil spills. Furthermore the long vaunted UN Environment Programme to ‘Clean up Ogoni’ and address decades of toxification of land and waterways, is still struggling to be realised. It is a massive task – in places the pollution in soil is the depth of two London Double Decker buses.

But this is not all, the Niger Delta is under radical threat from climate change. The Delta is a mighty fan of low-lying land, once essentially tropical rainforest, that faces the Gulf of Guinea. It is home to approximately 30 million people living in towns and villages amongst the complex web of oil and gas wells, pipelines and terminals. The area is the size of Belgium.

 

Map of the Niger Delta region showing the network of oil and gas installations.

The COP process was born out of the Earth Summit in 1992 in Brazil. At that conference the River Chiefs of the Niger Delta presented a memorandum that warned about sea-level rise from climate change as well as subsidence caused by oil and gas operations.

Led by Chief Dappa-Biriye[5], the report stated: “If we superimpose the predicted sea level rise on the gradually subsidising Niger Delta (subsidence exacerbated by oil and gas extraction), the net effect is that … about a 40 km-wide strip of the Niger Delta and its peoples would be submerged and rendered extinct.” The report continued: “Thus the very existence of the indigenous people of the Niger Delta and adjoining coastal zone is seriously threatened by environmental degradation caused by petroleum industrial pollution”.[2][6]

Clearly this is a place that faces a severe threat of sea level rise. The rising oceans due in large part to the melting of the ice caps, will lead to inundations across the globe. The scale of the rise and the speed at which it does so is, of course, hard to predict. But the inequity of the impacts is clear.

I urge you as a reader to take a moment to use this tool by Climate Central.[7]

Of course like all predictions it may be inaccurate but it will, surely, be as equally inaccurate in Glasgow as it is in Ogoni. Sir David King, former UK government chief scientific adviser, talked in the BBC documentary ‘Black Black Oil’ of the probability of a sea level rise of 24 feet. If you toggle the website you will see that in the heart of Glasgow such an inundation looks like this:

 

Flood map of 24 feet sea level rise in Glasgow area

Whereas in the Niger Delta it looks like this – and this map shows a far far larger area than that above:

 

Map of flooding from 24 feet sea level rise in the Niger Delta

All the forest and the fields, all the villages and the towns, indeed all the oil and gas installations, have been swallowed by the sea.

And this leaves out the fact that Glasgow will be at least in part protected from the sea by concrete flood defences financed by the UK or Scottish state. It is extremely unlikely that the Nigerian state will have the funds to undertake even a partial defence of the Delta, a reality which we can’t separate from the structural impoverishment the country has suffered against its will through decades of British colonialism.

These are the graphic realities of climate injustice that we must struggle against, as we keep learning how to show solidarity towards those who feel the brunt of it first hand. When we fail to bear witness to these dynamics, it is our own humanity and ability for compassion and repair that we deny ourselves. And we all deserve better.

 

With thanks for the inspiration and aid of Lazarus Tamana, Laurie Mompelat, Andy Rowell and Terry Macalister.

*

[1][8] It is a challenge that is also being faced in the UK North Sea and elsewhere around the world, as capital changes shape. As oil companies shift from being publicaly limited corporations to private equity concerns.

[2][9] http://priceofoil.org/2017/03/01/of-course-shellknew-too-nigeria-has-warned-it-about-climate-change-for-25-years/

Endnotes:
  1. Crude Britannia: https://www.waterstones.com/book/crude-britannia/james-marriott/terry-macalister/9780745341095#:~:text=Crude%20Britannia%3A%20How%20Oil%20Shaped%20a%20Nation%20(Hardback)&text=Taking%20the%20reader%20on%20a,soaked%20past%2C%20present%20and%20future.
  2. ‘I You We Them’ : https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/110/1107904/i-you-we-them/9780099592372.html
  3. Climate Reparations bloc: https://climatereparations.uk
  4. [1]: #_ftn1
  5. Chief Dappa-Biriye: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Green-Backlash-Subversion-Environment-Movement/dp/0415128285
  6. [2]: #_ftn2
  7. Climate Central.: https://coastal.climatecentral.org/map/10/-4.3355/55.8798/?theme=water_level&map_type=water_level_above_mhhw&basemap=roadmap&contiguous=true&elevation_model=best_available&refresh=true&water_level=24.0&water_unit=ft
  8. [1]: #_ftnref1
  9. [2]: #_ftnref2

Digram of the proposed HyNet scheme created by Cadent gas distribution company.

You can see the future from Formby Beach. You don’t even need to climb up on one of steep sand dunes to catch a glimpse of it. It is out there yellow and white lights blinking in the grey dusk away to the North West. It has supplanted the red dots of the turbines on Burbo Bank. The wind farm’s claim over the future has suddenly been eclipsed by the plans to store carbon in the rocks beneath Liverpool Bay, and the yellow and white lit platform at the Lennox gas field is a new weapon in the battle against climate chaos – the weapon of HyNet.

The Lennox gas field platform off Formby Beach

Steve Rotherham, Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region, whose realm stretches from Formby to the Wirral, declared on 19th October in the newspaper of Liverpool City Council: ‘Today’s decision (by the government to back HyNet) is a massive show of confidence … that the North can lead the country’s transition to net zero – with our region front and centre… I’ve been a longstanding and passionate advocate of HyNet, for its revolutionary approach to clean, green energy, and for its capacity to protect and create thousands of high-skilled, high-paid jobs across the region’.[1]

His words were swiftly echoed by Joanne Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, who tweeted ‘This is really great news as the region looks to be at the forefront of tackling the climate emergency’.

On the same day Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: ‘This firmly puts the UK as the world leader in clean energy. The ability of HyNet to transform the North West, safeguarding jobs, creating new ones and positioning the region at the forefront of green innovation is hugely exciting.’ [2]

Each of these players picked up on lines a month earlier by Phillip Hemmens, Senior vice president of Europe at Eni, the Italian oil & gas multinational, who said: ‘It is win-win. I’ve spent my career enjoying oil and gas but times change…I’m with a company that has an Italian expression ‘punta della freccia’ (‘the point of the arrow’). We want to be the point of the arrow to really start making this happen.’

In parallel, Richard Stevenson at INOVYN, a subsidiary of oil and petrochemicals corporation INEOS, pronounced: ‘The project is a game-changer and will provide a lasting legacy for generations to come[3] in the North West and North Wales.’

All of the stars are aligning: politicians – city, regional and national – and corporate executives. All parties support this new venture to tackle the climate emergency by burying carbon beneath the Bay. A new common sense of how the future should be is being defined. The future is being captured.

What is this scheme? For so long carbon capture and storage – CCS as it is known – seemed out on the edges of the reasonable, full of implausibility, often derided as nonsense purveyed by oil & gas corporations as a gimmick of greenwash. Now it seems that creating such a project in Liverpool Bay – and elsewhere – is a proposition that all should embrace, a way to tackle climate chaos and boost the regional economy, something utterly common sense.

The plan is to run gas extraction in reverse. Since 1995 gas has been pumped from beneath the northern Bay, piped 20 miles across the seabed to the Point of Ayr terminal in Flintshire – just across the Dee from the Wirral. From here it has fed the gas-fired power station at Connah’s Quay and passed into the National Grid, supplying domestic heating systems and gas cookers across the UK. But the gas fields are depleting, leaving a void in the geology. Not a moment too soon, for now, Eni the corporation that has extracted the gas, can sell the vacant space to the citizens of Britain as a place to dump their carbon waste.

This waste is not gathered house to house, as the refuse workers of Liverpool City Council do, but it is ‘captured’ in the handful of places within the region that produce carbon on a massive scale. Several of these are already partners in HyNet[4] – the Hanson cement works at Padeswood and the Uniper gas-fired power station at Connah’s Quay, the INEOS chemical works in Runcorn[5] and the mighty Essar refinery at Stanlow. Each of these heavy fossil fuel users aims to ‘capture’ the carbon dioxide from their plants and pump it back through the Point of Ayr terminal, across the seabed, and inject it into that void beneath the Lennox platform and elsewhere across the Liverpool Bay gas fields.

Here the carbon will be ‘stored’. However, whereas storage normally implies something temporary – ‘I’ll put the jam in the store cupboard until we need it …’ – this is ‘storage’ forever. It is not lifetime imprisonment but incarceration for eternity. The carbon once ‘stored’, must never be allowed free or else it would escape into the atmosphere and the whole exercise will have been futile. (In this way the ‘storage of carbon’ echoes the ‘storage of nuclear waste’.)

Alongside dumping the carbon from these existing facilities, the HyNet scheme aims to establish a plant at Stanlow Refinery that will manufacture hydrogen from natural gas. By dumping under the Bay the CO2 generated in the creation of this hydrogen, it will be able to declare it Net Zero, or ‘blue hydrogen’. It will then sell the hydrogen as liquid fuel for buses, trains, cars and potentially ships operating in the North West Region. The entire scheme is illustrated through diagrams on HyNet’s promotional website.

HyNet’s diagram of the proposed scheme stretching across the North West

There are multiple reasons to challenge the engineering feasibility of a scheme such as HyNet. Not least because, despite Hemmens saying that Liverpool will be a place of experimentation for further schemes, CCS projects have been attempted since 1972 and for fifty years have been a litany of failure. This half-century of promises is well described in a recent report by Oil Change International[6]. But I will not dwell on those matters in this piece. What grips me is how the world of capital was captured by this engineering project, and how in turn it captured the world of politics.

Capital is, after all, interested in only one thing: the rate of return on capital, the level of profit. The engineering behind CCS has been trialled for five decades but the idea that these schemes can be profitable has only recently emerged. It depends upon the ‘waste product’ of carbon being seen as sufficiently problematic to human society as to warrant its disposal a ‘public good’ that should be paid for by the ‘public purse’. When in the nineteenth century the scale of refuse in the massively expanding city of Liverpool was seen to be a ‘public nuisance’ – not least as a driver of disease – then the council used funds from public taxes to pay refuse firms to collect the rubbish. Gathering garbage became a profitable venture.

Now that the constantly mounting signs of climate chaos make national governments recognise that carbon in the atmosphere is a ‘nuisance’ and are prepared to pay for its disposal, the business of collecting (or ‘capturing’) carbon can be profitable. So the likes of Eni switch from making profit though extracting gas from beneath Liverpool Bay to disposing of carbon and extracting profit from the public purse. Where once they drilled off Formby Beach, now they drill in Whitehall and suck in funds from the UK Exchequer.

The government’s announcement proclaimed that the UK will ‘invest’ half a billion pounds of public money in HyNet and Rotherham understandably celebrated this sum coming to the region. However the companies that will construct and operate the scheme, Eni, Hanson, Uniper, Essar and INEOS are – respectively – Italian-based, German-based, Indian-based and Monaco-based multinationals. (Cadent, another key partner, is owned by Australian, Qatari and Chinese financiers.) A very substantial portion of the UK’s public ‘investment’ will be captured by these corporations and stored in the bank balances of investors far, far from the shores of Liverpool Bay.

Not only does this scheme capture public funds for private corporations, but just as significantly it places part of the task of tackling climate chaos in the North West into the hands of perhaps twenty men who live far from the region. This scheme captures the future – and a key weapon in that capture is the gas platform visible off Formby Beach.

If this is the tale of how capital was captured by CCS, how then was politics corralled? In April 2021 Rotherham stood on the online Mayoral hustings and spoke of his commitment to renewable energy systems, of the potential of Merseyside to be a pioneer in wind, solar and crucially a Mersey Tidal Power scheme. The barrage, which has been debated in detail four times since 1976, had been a key commitment by the national Labour Party in the lead up to the 2019 General Election. But the Tidal project seems to be have been eclipsed as HyNet seizes the future. For the latter suddenly has national government backing and promises the deliver not just hydrogen but, more importantly, funding to Liverpool City region that has been brutally starved of funds by a decade of ‘Tory Austerity’. If the North West is desperately short of revenue, and there’s no money to back a tidal barrage but finances to underpin HyNet, then CCS suddenly becomes common sense in the realm of politics.

Common sense in capital and politics is underpinned by academia. One of the partners in HyNet is the University of Chester. Professor Joseph Howe, Executive Director of the Thornton Energy Institute at the university, says with passionate enthusiasm: ‘HyNet is a transformational project that will establish the North West as the leading region in hydrogen. We have the industry, infrastructure and innovation to make this a reality and we are ready to deliver.’[7]

Thornton Energy Institute is key to this experiment in CCS. This institute (as explored in our book Crude Britannia[8]) exists in the buildings that Shell cast aside when it sold up Stanlow Refinery and shut down its own R & D centre at Thornton in 2013. The University of Chester has extended the life of this font of oil thinking, just as CCS offers to extend the life of the refinery next door, now owned by Essar. (The refinery has been threatening to close – as covered in a recent Platform blog[9])

This new common sense is a punt, an experiment played out on and in Merseyside which may or may not succeed. However, if it goes ahead, it will help keep the North West and North Wales locked into fossil fuel thinking for another generation. And as it does so it also extends the life of the carbon emitting plants of its partners – the Hanson cement works at Padeswood, the INEOS chemical works at Runcorn and crucially the oil wells of Eni around the world. For this oil multinational will be able to say that it is approaching Net Zero through carbon captured by HyNet, thereby allowing it to argue the validity of maintaining oil extraction projects elsewhere in the world, such as in Niger Delta[10] and Iraq.

It does not have to be this way. A different future can be seen from Formby Beach. One in which the Lennox platform is decommissioned when its life comes to an end in the next few years. And with it the terminal at Point of Ayr and the pipelines that run too and from it. A future in which the wind farms of Liverpool Bay and the Mersey Tidal scheme underpin an economy run entirely on renewable systems. A future in which – ideally – these machines that turn the common wind into energy and the common tide into energy, come under common ownership.

Can we not dream and build a future that is not placed in the hands of the likes of Eni, Hanson, Uniper, Cadent, Essar and INEOS?

With thanks to Andy Rowell, Gaby Jeliazkov and Terry Macalister.

Endnotes:
  1. jobs across the region’.: https://liverpoolexpress.co.uk/government-backs-regions-revolutionary-green-network/
  2. green innovation is hugely exciting.’ : https://hynet.co.uk/hynet-selected-by-government-as-track-1-industry-cluster/
  3. a lasting legacy for generations to come: https://www.ineos.com/inch-magazine/articles/issue-21/its-time-for-a-new-industrial-revolution/
  4. partners in HyNet: https://hynet.co.uk/partners-funding/
  5. INEOS chemical works in Runcorn: https://www.runcornandwidnesworld.co.uk/news/19674090.ineos-runcorn-key-uk-move-hydrogen-energy/
  6. Oil Change International: http://priceofoil.org/2021/06/17/carbon-capture-five-decades-of-industry-false-hope-hype-and-hot-air/
  7. we are ready to deliver.’: https://www1.chester.ac.uk/news/north-west-ready-deliver-uk%E2%80%99s-first-hydrogen-project-within-five-years
  8. Crude Britannia: https://www.waterstones.com/book/crude-britannia/james-marriott/terry-macalister/9780745341095
  9. recent Platform blog: https://platformlondon.org/2021/10/04/profiting-from-the-panic-how-to-use-a-squeeze-in-the-oil-flow-to-financial-advantage/
  10. Niger Delta: https://www.eni.com/en-IT/eni-worldwide/africa/nigeria.html

Front cover of The i on 21st September 2021

Hot on the heels of the Petrol Panic comes the Gas Price Panic and the Electricity Price Panic – my head spins as I try to take in each of these fossil fuel driven convulsions. It is worth the effort to unpick this ball of yarn and lay out the tale it reveals.

It is a tale of two cities. We can begin by describing each in turn and then see how they interconnect. We shall call one The Streets and the other The Towers.

To the City of the Streets comes news to add to the nation’s woes, that the price of gas is suddenly sky rocketing. Householders will soon be hit by huge increases in their fuel bills forcing yet more into fuel poverty and many into a Winter in which many thousands of people will have to choose between heating and eating.

The Borough Tower Hamlets is home to Platform’s offices and our London LEAP project works with communities in the area on how to create a just transition. Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in England. Five years ago four in ten children were in families living below the national poverty line. Part of this deprivation comes from the proportion of the household expenditure that has to go on gas and electricity, as prices of these commodities rise, these homes are pushed into greater poverty.

Tower Hamlets Borough Council – index of deprivation map – showing Bethnal Green and Canary Wharf

In parallel with this impact comes news of the threat to industrial production – the rising gas prices is driving up the price of electricity generated from gas, which in turn is forcing plants that depend on high electricity use to shut down. In Port Talbot the steelworks foresee looming debts and threaten lay offs in that former petrochemicals town. (We explore the long petroleum history of Port Talbot in Crude Britannia[1].) At Ince, next door to Stanlow Refinery on Merseyside, CF Industries closed its fertiliser plant[2]. Together with its plant at Billingham, the company produces 40% of the UK’s fertiliser. These factories also manufacture carbon dioxide as a bi-product and their closure causes a crisis in the packaging and food preserving sector. Supermarkets and food producers are becoming concerned. All of these industrial threats cast a cloud over the cost of living in Tower Hamlets, as they drive up the price of food in the supermarkets and shops on Bethnal Green Road.

Bethnal Green Road

The airwaves and newspapers on line, spell out the ‘reasons’ for the gas price hike – a sudden increase in gas demand in Asia and Latin America as industrial economies wake from their Covid slumber; an unusually cold spell last Winter (quite possibly a symptom of climate chaos) drove up gas usage and depleted stocks; maintenance on North Sea gas field platforms was massively delayed by Covid; the lack of UK gas storage facilities means stocks run down quickly; a summer of unusually low winds (also possibly a symptom of climate change) drove down wind farm electricity generation and drove up gas usage; and Putin appeared to reduce gas exports through the pipeline from Siberia to Europe as the Russian state tried to bulldoze through EU concerns over the building of Nordstream II, the long-planned gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. All of the causes were hailed as reasons for costs rising in Bethnal Green and the threat of a winter of hypothermia in Poplar.

The media response drives the political response. In the face of this mounting crisis the actors in government need to be seen and need to be reported, to be doing something. Prime Minister Johnson is berated for taking a holiday in Spain. Business Minister Kwateng makes speeches in the House of Commons and gets into a public argument with civil servants at the Treasury and the Chancellor Sunak. And all around there is chatter over the possibility of Britain having a re-run of the Winter of Discontent that legendarily destroyed the Labour Government of Jim Callaghan. Is the Johnson government heading for the same fate, to be engulfed in public anger for failing to deliver stability and security?

20 Canada Square, Canary Wharf

In the City of the Towers a different tale is unfolding. Chief among the towers is Canary Wharf, at the southern end of the Borough of Tower Hamlets. Among the cluster of skyscrapers that make up ‘The Canary’ is Canada Square, which houses the offices of BP’s Integrated Supply & Trading Division (IST). This is a key hub in BP’s global chain that trades in oil and gas. The corporation has offices in Chicago, Singapore and Houston. BP’s London node in the global oil and gas trade is not alone, here in Canary Wharf are the offices of other oil traders, and the kings of this realm – the likes of Vitol and Gunvor – also have bases in the UK’s capital.

On these trading floors takes place the buying and selling oil and gas. This is not just buying fuel for today, like the drivers who pull into the BP petrol station on Cambridge Heath Road, and not just oil and gas to be delivered tomorrow, but ‘futures’. The traders sell and buy oil or gas for delivery at some future date at some specified location. For example a trader at the BP office in Canada Water might buy or sell crude oil to be delivered at a terminal in Rotterdam three months hence, or in a years time. Or natural gas to be delivered by pipeline on January 1st 2022 to the Intergen gas-fired power station at Coryton, South Essex or the Vitol gas-fired power station at Damhead Creek, North Kent (on the site of the former coal-fired power station of Kingsnorth that Platform[3] helped battle against as part of Climate Camp.[4])

August 2006 – Climate Camp at Kingsnorth, Kent with the now demolished power station in the distance

The trade in oil futures has existed since the late 1960s, but began to thrive in the mid 1980s when the control of OPEC over oil trading was steadily destroyed and in its place came a ‘global market’ run out of a handful of cities and run by a handful of oil trading corporations, dominated by those kings Vitol, Gunvor and Glencore. In 1980 a group of these energy companies established the International Petroleum Exchange – the IPE – in London, soon based in St Katherine’s Dock in Tower Hamlets. It was a sister to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and a pillar of the new oil order coming into being. On 31st January 1997 the first formal trade in UK gas futures took place on the IPE, an act which the exchange heralded as ‘part of deregulation of Britain’s gas industry’.

By the late 1990s the major oil corporations joined in. BP established its Intergrated Supply & Trading department, under the guiding hand of Vivienne Cox, and by 2000 had set up the office in Canary Wharf. By this point trade was not only in oil and gas futures but other ‘financial instruments’ had also been created known as options and swaps – where profit could be generated on the differential between the price of a set future, and the actual price at the moment of delivery. All of these ‘derivatives’, as they are known, not only contribute to volatility in the price of oil or gas, but indeed their profitability depends upon producing that market volatility. A market that is not volatile is an unprofitable market, whereas a market where the price of oil or gas is rising or falling rapidly is an intensely profitable market.

To return to the events of October 2021 and our twin cities. Gas futures, trading on the (now renamed) ICE Futures exchange (no longer based in Tower Hamlets but New York and Atlanta) began to rise dramatically from mid September. And there’s a feedback loop, the more trade there is, the higher or lower the price moves and the speed of this movement increases. For this trade that passes through the BP office in Canada Water does not abide by ‘office hours’ of 9 to 5. Rather it is constant and traders work online so the need to come into the Canary Wharf offices becomes ever less. The trade takes place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, passing from London to Houston to Singapore and back to London.

The City of the Towers is a global metropolis, it stretches around the Earth and barely touches the ground. The Towers float above the Streets.

ICE Futures – UK Natural Gas Futures 20th October 2021

It might seem that there’s no connection between these two cities. That the digital trade has no effect on the price of gas physically delivered to a power station in Kent or a home Tower Hamlets. But this is not so, the digital trade, the buying and selling of gas futures, drives the price of the physical gas. Meanwhile the intensity of the trade – the amount of buying and selling, which itself depends upon the volatility of the price – largely determines the profits of the trader. And this trade is an immensely profitable activity. Indeed in 2015, fifteen years after it was established, BP’s IST department was revealed at the most profitable arm of the corporation. This in turn feeds the growing chasm of unequal wealth between the Towers and the Streets.

These are the connections between the two cities. And these two places have different desires and needs. The Streets want stability and security (indeed they demand that the politicians deliver this) where as the Towers want volatility and fluctuation.

For further exploration of these themes – see Crude Britannia [5]and Mazen Laban – Oil in parallax: Scarcity, markets and the financialization of accumulation – Geoforum 41 – 2010

Thanks to Kennedy Walker, Laurie Mompelat and Terry Macalister

Endnotes:
  1. Crude Britannia: https://www.waterstones.com/book/crude-britannia/james-marriott/terry-macalister/9780745341095
  2. fertiliser plant: https://www.cityam.com/gas-price-surge-forces-industrial-sites-to-close/
  3. Platform: https://platformlondon.org/2009/10/09/battle-over-kingsnorth-coal-plant-won/
  4. Climate Camp.: https://platformlondon.org/2016/08/11/the-changing-wind-shedding-the-carbon-skin/
  5. Crude Britannia : https://www.waterstones.com/book/crude-britannia/james-marriott/terry-macalister/9780745341095

Military personnel at BP’s Buncefield Oil terminal near Hemel Hempstead, Monday 4th October

Week two of the Petrol Panic – Monday 4th October. It looks like the pumps are working as normal in the BP petrol station at 232 Priory Road in Anfield, Liverpool, fed by road tankers filled at the gantries of Stanlow Refinery, 12 miles to south on the banks of the Mersey. But the Petrol Retailers Association[1] reports that one in five stations in London and South East are still low on fuel. And the government has deployed 200 army[2] personnel to drive the fuel tankers of multinationals such as Hoyer GMBH, as they fan out from oil terminals like BP Oil at Buncefield, Hemel Hempstead. This fuel depot, just 8 miles north of the M25, is itself fed by pipelines – one from Stanlow Refinery and another from the Thames estuary terminal at Coryton.

Into this second week runs the nervousness of the cities. Since Thursday 23rd September the mood in London has been febrile with news of fights in petrol queues and a stabbing on forecourt only just avoided.[3] It is a reminder of our petroleum addiction and an acute echo of the tanker blockades of 2000 when there were fears of supermarkets running empty and cashpoints not being refilled. And two decades later these anxieties come midst the worries of empty shelves driven by Brexit and electricity and gas prices.

In the political commentary, concerns over the rising cost of living are set against the ‘green agenda’. Some blame the high price of electricity on the increasing role of wind power. Others blame the direct actions by Insulate Britain for the panic at the pumps and this is utilised by politicians calling for criminalisation of such protest[4]. There’s the memory of the French experience with the Gilets Jaunes. Will attempts to constrain the carbon emissions of the transport sector by increasing fuel taxes invoke a massive public backlash? Is the sheer visceral stress that breaks out across the UK after only 24 hours of questionable fuel supply a forewarning of such revolts in the future? Does the sense of the addiction to petrol ward off any politician in power from actually legislating to constrain petrol sales?

 

Hoyer Group tanker at Trafford Wharf oil terminal, Manchester on Tuesday 28th September

The practicalities of crisis – a lack of HGV drivers for the fuel tankers – demonstrates the weakness of the government and indeed the state. If there’s a fire, the state has the power to put it out – it sends in the fire brigade, a public service. When there’s a lack of fuel, the state lacks the tools to remedy this – for the distribution of petrol is not a public service. It was not always this way, during World War II and for many years later the distribution of fuel was effectively nationalised under the POOL system. Indeed until the 1980s the UK state had a hand in it via the government’s 51% ownership of BP. Now the distribution of fuel is entirely in private hands, to a radical degree, and this limits the power of the state to deal with the crisis and assist its citizens.

The challenge can be seen most acutely at the local level. Consider two petrol stations in still fuel-febrile South London, at 357-361 Lewisham High Street and 360 Verdant Lane in Catford, both branded Shell.

The two garages lie at the edge of Rushey Green Ward, and close to the Catford Gyratory road system. Here the A205 and A21 intersect with Brownhill Road, Bromley Road, Catford Road and Rushey Green Road. This is a key node on London’s South Circular, one of the crucial traffic arteries in the metropolis. Its significance is illustrated by the fact that it will be the border of London’s forthcoming enlarged Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ).[5] In just a few days time, on the 25th October 2021, this will be an electronic gateway, the place where the exhausts of all vehicles passing further into the city will be monitored to ensure they abide by low emissions standards. It will be the front line in the battle against air pollution and respiratory disease in the metropolis.

A central part of Lewisham tackling climate change, facing the ‘green agenda’, will undoubtedly require a battle against cars, and especially petrol fuelled cars. Perhaps the Catford Gyratory will become a tool in a campaign to ban all petrol engines in the heart of London by 2030? This gateway could monitor transport on the roads and ensure only electric vehicles pass the checkpoint. But there are forces that would resist such a move – not only the driving public but also the owners of the existing petroleum infrastructure.

Shell branded by MFG owned petrol station, Catford, South London

Look more closely at Shell Lewisham Petrol Station at 357-361 Lewisham High Street and Shell Catford Petrol Station at 360 Verdant Lane in Catford. Although these are both ‘Shell’ petrol stations, the only thing the company owns there is the brand – on the signs over the forecourts, on the pumps, on the shirts of the people serving behind the tills. The brand is leased by the owner of the two stations the Motor Fuel Group (MFG), which runs the largest number of service stations in the UK. This company is itself owned by a private equity company in New York. This part of the fossil fuel infrastructure of Lewisham is owned by foreign-based capital, that is consequently largely beyond the reach of the UK government, undoubtedly pays little or no tax in the UK and is entirely invisible to British civil society.

Both of these stations are supplied by road tanker. Those trucks, that have been at the center of the media around the Petrol Panic, usually deliver both petrol and diesel at least once in every 24 hours, normally at night. For there is limited storage capacity on each of the two garages, as was illustrated after 24th September when following exceptionally high numbers of drivers wanting to fill up, the petrol stations quickly began to run dry.

The road tankers are usually bearing the Shell logo, but once again the oil corporation does not own the vehicles nor employ the drivers. Shell merely leases the logo to the multinational that runs these trucks, XPO Logistics, Hoyer[6] or another. XPO is a private equity company, also headquartered in the US, in Connecticut. Therefore another part of the fossil fuel infrastructure of Lewisham is owned by foreign-based capital. Undoubtedly the company pays little or no tax in the UK and is entirely invisible to British civil society.

So where do the tankers come from? Things get a little less clear at this point. They could come from a number of places – Buncefield Terminal north or London, or more likely the Oikos Storage on Canvey Island, the Esso terminal at Purfleet or Thames Oil Port at Coryton. All three of the latter are in South Essex. Thames Oil Port, on the former site of the BP Coryton Refinery (from where a pipeline runs to Buncefield), is owned by Greenergy, a private equity company based in London which is itself owned by Brookfield Business Partners another private company based in Toronto, Canada. Brookfield is reputedly linked to the interests of the Saudi Royal Family. Yet another part of the fossil fuel infrastructure that supplies Lewisham is owned by foreign-based capital. Brookfield (despite being reminiscent of ‘The Archers’) is beyond the reach of the UK government. Undoubtedly Brookfield, and possibly Greenergy, pay little or no tax in the UK and again are entirely invisible to British civil society. The Thames Oil Port terminal is supplied by a sea going tanker, bringing fuel up The Channel and into the mouth of the Thames, delivered from refineries from all parts of the world. (All of these stories are teased out in our book – Crude Britannia[7].)

So the state is beholden to the private equity companies. It relies on their ability to deliver fuel to the nation and when, through poor management and planning, they fail to do so, the state sends in the army to assist. The army helping a private corporation such as Hoyer or XPO to overcome its labour shortages presumably caused by their drive to reduce costs and increase profit on capital. The public sector bails out the private sector.

What does this mean for any attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transport? It means that such efforts are not only squeezed by public anxiety over fuel supply, vividly reported by the press, but are also squeezed by the owners of the petrol infrastructure, entirely unreported and thus far from public gaze and control.

Rushey Green Ward in Lewisham, where the Catford Gyratory lies, is the ward of Lewisham councillor Louise Krupski. Two and a half years ago, on 27th February 2019, the London Borough of Lewisham declared a Climate Emergency[8]. The Motion, passed by the council, was driven by the brave Labour Councillor Tauseef Anwar and seconded by Labour Councillor Louise Krupski. A number of councillors spoke in support of the Motion, including Cllr Liam Curran and Cllr Sakina Sheikh, our Platform companion. The declaration read:

Without significant and sustained action, the world will exceed the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit before 2050. The government’s policies and programmes to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 are insufficient. Individual and collective action is needed to make this reduction. Society needs to change its laws, taxation, infrastructure and culture to recognise and meet the full cost of greenhouse gases. The public sector has a fundamental role in enabling individuals and communities to make sustainable low carbon choices.

Through this act the Council called on the Mayor and Cabinet to:

‘Pledge to do everything in its power to make Lewisham Carbon Neutral by 2030’

The bold declaration was one of a growing number of similar resolutions by other councils, as the movement for a Climate Emergency spread like wildfire across the globe. Six days before Lewisham, the City of Cambridge declared a Climate Emergency. The city mayors of Bristol and Manchester declared in November 2018 and London followed suit the next month. At the time of writing, there are 310 councils[9] in the UK who have passed resolutions.

What does the Petrol Panic and the petrol infrastructure mean for the drive to make Lewisham Carbon Neutral? Since 2019 the council has made steps to address fuel poverty and offer grants for the installation of solar panels, but beyond looking at the emissions of the council’s own fleet of vehicles it seems little has been done to tackle the petroleum infrastructure[10]. To do so not only faces the public’s deep anxiety about fuel supplies, but also the fact that these two (among several others) key cogs in the machine that pumps fossil fuels through the borough, these two ‘Shell’ petrol stations, are owned by foreign capital and are far beyond the reach of the UK government let alone the control of Lewisham Council. If the council tries to push against petrol-driven cars refuelling in the borough, if it tries to utilise the opportunity offered by the ULEZ, then it will need to face not only opposition from the driving public but also opposition of these capital entities.

Any move to limit or ban petrol cars in Lewisham will face an uphill campaign against many, many residents who would be critical of such a policy. This opposition can be addressed. The provision of public transport, run on electricity, can be radically increased. The Council could establish a network of electric vehicle charging points throughout the borough. There could be a well-funded and sustained cultural and social programme to encourage people out of their cars, onto buses, bicycles and their feet. Of course this requires capital and Lewisham, like all local authorities is extremely strapped for cash after years of austerity. However, some of these public initiatives could be funded by a community reinvest programme driven by the Borough Council pension fund[11]. It could be a proud exemplar of the Green New Deal[12] movement. Fortunately Louise Krupski is one of seven councillors who sit on the Lewisham Pensions Investment Committee.

However, it is not only the users we need to face, but also the dealers.

 

Brad Jacobs, CEO of XPO Logistics company, based in the US.

If there is a move to stop the sale of petrol and diesel in Lewisham, in order to achieve a Carbon Neutral borough, how will this come about? How will the Council, and civil society, put pressure on the dealers? This raises a plethora of interesting questions: Can the Council revoke the license to run the two petrol stations? Who issued these licenses or planning permissions? They may well stretch back into the 1950s or even the 1920s, but presumably it was the Council who provided the original permission. Such a move would undoubtedly invite push back from the companies behind the supply of fuel to Lewisham. Shell, MFG, XPO Logistics, Greenergy, Brookfield, will all push bank. For we can presume that their capital planning was built on an assumption of fuel consumption in Lewisham, and elsewhere in the UK, far beyond 2030. And then how does this mesh with the government’s declared intent to limit petrol driven vehicles beyond this date?

In the battle over the future of UK North Sea, currently being fought on the Cambo field, it relatively easy to conceive of the web of infrastructure that makes up the offshore oil world – the drilling rigs, the oil platforms, the pipelines, the terminals and so on. One massive system largely owned by foreign-based capital concerns. But there is a mirror of this onshore – the refineries, the terminals, the pipelines, the road tankers, the forecourts. One massive system largely owned by foreign-based capital concerns, yet rarely do we pay attention to it as a whole, and the challenge of ‘shutting it down’ seems far more challenging than that of ‘shutting down’ offshore production. What does Just Transition mean in this onshore realm?

 

Many thanks to Terry Macalister, Gaby Jeliazkov and Rob Noyes.

Endnotes:
  1. Petrol Retailers Association: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/oct/04/uk-fuel-crisis-could-go-on-for-further-week-despite-military-help
  2. 200 army: https://www.londonworld.com/news/traffic-and-travel/petrol-station-shortages-which-london-garages-have-run-out-of-fuel-with-drivers-panic-buying-3396295
  3. stabbing on forecourt only just avoided.: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/fights-petrol-stations-london-fuel-crisis-b957619.html
  4. calling for criminalisation of such protest: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/oct/05/priti-patel-to-enable-police-to-stop-disruptive-protesters-going-to-demos
  5. Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ).: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/ultra-low-emission-zone/ulez-where-and-when
  6. Hoyer: https://www.hoyer-group.com/en/hoyer-group
  7. Crude Britannia: https://www.waterstones.com/book/crude-britannia/james-marriott/terry-macalister/9780745341095
  8. Climate Emergency: https://lewisham.gov.uk/myservices/environment/making-the-borough-carbon-neutral-by-2030-climate-emergency-declaration
  9. 310 councils: https://www.climateemergency.uk/blog/list-of-councils/
  10. petroleum infrastructure: https://lewisham.gov.uk/articles/news/pressing-ahead-with-action-on-climate-emergency
  11. Borough Council pension fund: https://gofossilfree.org/divestment/what-is-fossil-fuel-divestment/
  12. Green New Deal: https://www.labourgnd.uk/

Petrol queues in Liverpool on 24th September 2021

Petrol Panic grips the nation. A second week of fuel shortages on the forecourts threatens to hobble the economy, or at least erode support for the Tories in their heartlands and overshadow the Conservative Party Conference. Will queues at the petrol pumps in Manchester crowd the prime minister’s show? The Shell stations in Bolton were still dry on Friday 1st October. What will unfold on Monday 4th October at the Essar garage in St Annes, four miles east of the conference center?

There’s no shortage of people being blamed for the crisis – from the HGV drivers to the EU, from the DVLA to Insulate Britain. For as has frequently been reported, there is not a lack of petrol at the refineries and fuel depots, merely a problem with the flow of road tankers distributing it to the pumps. The issue is not with the amount of oil, but the control of the flow of oil. Any crisis such as this is used by politicians and corporations alike to enhance political power or return on capital. Figures in the government endeavour to use the Petrol Panic to improve their status as being able ‘to sort things out’. But what of the corporations in the past two weeks? Have any sought to turn the distress in the petrol queues to their advantage?

It seems likely that Liverpool was the first port through which oil flowed into the bloodstream of Britain. It arrived in wooden barrels in 1860, freighted across the wide Atlantic from the ports of the American eastern seaboard. Since then, crude has been shipped into the muddy waters of the Mersey and its products out across the region – a constant flow of the geologies of elsewhere for a hundred and sixty years.

The key node in this flow has been, and remains, the refinery at Stanlow. When motorists in Liverpool, or walkers in Birkenhead, look south down the Mersey, the horizon is etched out with the chimneys and stacks of the plant. Here is a factory so iconic that it has had two music tracks penned in its name – Stanlow[1] by OMD and Stanlow[2] by Jesu. (The story behind the OMD track Stanlow is explored in Crude Britannia[3].)

 

Tanker delivering crude oil to Tranmere Terminal ready to be piped to Stanlow Refinery

Today the refinery ingests crude from the UK North Sea, the Gulf States, Russia, Nigeria and beyond, processing it into petrol, diesel, aviation fuel, tarmac and feedstock for petrochemical plants. From this vast chemistry set, working day and night without ceasing, fuel is exported, via the Manchester Jet Line to the planes at Manchester Airport. Stanlow also supplies Birmingham, Liverpool and Heathrow airports. A second line, UK Oil Products North pipeline, takes petrol and diesel to depots in the Midlands and Southern England. At the gantries of Stanlow are filled road tankers that supply petrol stations across the North West and Northern Wales. Forecourts as far off as Porthmadog in Gwynedd carry signs saying ‘provided by Stanlow’ underneath the brand name Essar[4]. The refinery supplies petrol stations of all brands – Shell, Morrisons, BP, Jet, Esso and more. Indeed Essar boasts that Stanlow provides approximately 16% of the UK’s road transport fuels.

For Stanlow, after a century in the ownership of Shell, was sold in 2011 to Essar Energy, an Indian multinational based in Mumbai. Shell closed the next door research laboratory at Thornton the following year with 300 staff laid off or relocated. The corporation saw the move as part of a general pulling out of Britain and global refining. Mr Hunter, Supply Contracts and Negotiations Manager at Shell, told a Parliament in 2013: “We exited the UK, and we have exited a number of refineries across the world over the last few years, because we want to reduce our overall exposure to the global refining margin.”

Stanlow Refinery dominating the landscape of Merseyside

The sale of Stanlow by Shell fitted into a UK wide pattern. In the1980s four major refineries were decommissioned, including BP’s plant on the Isle of Grain (1982). These were followed by further closures, such as at Teeside (2009) and Coryton (2012). Slowly the UK’s oil refining capacity was cut from 18 substantial refineries in 1970 to six in 2021. Consequently, since 2013 the UK has been a net importer of petroleum products, which has raised concerns in Parliament that “the loss of further UK refining capability may pose a risk to security of energy supply as a result of increasing dependence on imports”.

Into this fragile situation bursts the Petrol Panic of September 2021. Rumours of petrol stations running out began to circulate on Friday 24th September. Anxiety spread across the UK, and the North West and North Wales provided a perfect regional exemplar of the national problem. At 7.00 am on the Saturday police were dealing with drivers illegally queuing on the highway as they waited to refuel at Morrison’s in Nantwich, 25 miles from Stanlow. On the same day queues formed outside petrol stations from Llandudno to Liverpool. Two days later retailers from Bangor to Bolton were imposing a £30 fuel limit.

The threat of economic seizure across the North West and North Wales due to a constraint of the flow of oil echoes the national Farmers for Action refinery blockade of 2000, which began at Stanlow on Friday 8th September. Then, as now, the issue was not that there was not enough fuel in the UK for the oil to keep flowing, but who controlled that flow. In 2000 the lorry drivers were protesting against petroleum tax which looked set to push petrol over £4.00 a gallon.

Farmers for Action protestors at the gates of Stanlow in September 2000

Shell, at that time the owner of Stanlow, knew well the experience of truck drivers blockading the refinery, for – as with other corporations such as BP – they had gone through truckers blockades at their plants in France over the previous month. The oil companies could see that it was in their interests not to demand that the police clear protestors at their gates. Indeed all of the companies – whatever the size of the protests outside their gates, however aggressive or meek, however much pressure to supply – came out with a remarkably uniform response: “We are concerned for the safety of our drivers.” At the time there were nine refineries, rather than the six we have today.

After four days of blockades and mounting panic across Britain, on Tuesday 12th September Tony Blair personally contacted oil company chief executives, ordering them to restart supplies, which they didn’t. The following day, the prime minister called company executives into No 10, this time pleading with them. After the Wednesday meeting, the companies’ made a public statement but action was far weaker than Blair had demanded. However on that Wednesday morning Farmers for Action ceased their blockade at Stanlow, and protests across the UK soon followed suit. Finally supplies were restarted under police escort on the morning of Thursday 14th September.

The damage to the government had been done. Alistair Campbell diaries on the events noted: “TB said at one point that if this was Thatcher and the miners, the police would waste no time wading in. We were just pussyfooting with small groups of people threatening to bring the country to a standstill” and “We weren’t far off a crisis in the basic infrastructure of the nation.” Campbell reflected: “The word crisis is the most overused in the media lexicon. In 10 years with Tony Blair, I think I witnessed five full blown crises – Iraq, Kosovo, September 11, fuel protests and foot and mouth disease.” His point illustrates the fragility of the system. In just four days a disruption of the oil flow can create an event that passes Campbell’s test of a ‘political crisis’. A similar event took place this September 2021, illustrating once again our dependence on the constancy of fuel provision.

After the blockades of 2000, Greg Muttitt and myself wrote a piece in The Guardian[5] exploring why the oil companies had been so reluctant to push for the blockades to be broken. Our conclusion was that it suited the corporations to have the government reminded of just how vital the industry is for political stability. And that they used this reminder to pressure the Blair government to accede on tax issues that concerned them. In particular to defend the terms of the Petroleum Revenue Tax on North Sea offshore oil fields that had been granted by Chancellor Nigel Lawson back in 1993. They used it to maintain the status quo that made the UK’s North Sea the world’s second cheapest oil-producing region after Ireland.

Stanlow Refinery at the heart of the oil machine on Merseyside – map from Crude Britannia

On the 26th September, in the midst of the Petrol Panic of 2021, The Times revealed, that a dispute between Essar and the HM Revenue and Customs on an outstanding VAT bill of £223 million threatened to close Stanlow. Here was an issue that had been rumbling in the background for at least a year.

It seems that the Petrol Panic emphasised just how strategically vital Stanlow is to the government, and in the midst of it Essar was pressuring the UK Government to give it more favourable taxation terms. Two days later Reuters reported that HMRC had ‘thrown Essar a lifeline’ allowing the company to extend a deadline of tax repayment.

Twenty-one years after observing how BP and Shell had utilised the blockades to make their case with the government over tax issues, it appears that Essar may have been using a similar playbook.

There is the Panic … and then there’s the question of who can use the panic to their own ends. Who can squeeze the flow of oil into the bloodstream in order to generate profit on capital or political power.

 

Thanks to Rob Noyes, Terry Macalister, Greg Muttitt, Ben Lennon, Gavin Bridge & the Fraying Ties? team.

Endnotes:
  1. Stanlow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xevq955tY8c
  2. Stanlow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnHTczRZbQw
  3. Crude Britannia: https://www.waterstones.com/book/crude-britannia/james-marriott/terry-macalister/9780745341095
  4. Essar: http://www.essaroil.co.uk/commercial/supply/
  5. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2000/oct/04/guardiansocietysupplement6

The proposed motorway in Kent and Essex – entrance to the tunnel under the Thames

Another consultation document to go through. Another online form. Another swamp of documents. They are drowning us in data.

This is the Community Impacts Consultation[1] for the Lower Thames Crossing issued by the UK government agency, National Highways (formerly Highways England). Again and again we go over the same ground. (We have blogged on these matters before[2]). For over three decades the Department of Transport has been determined to build a new section of the M25 Motorway, apparently to deal with repeated congestion at the Dartford Tunnel and Bridge, east of London. The Department has pushed scheme after scheme and initially said that they were trying to find ‘the best route’ across the Lower Thames. ‘Option C’ was settled on in 2017 and now the full pressure of the state – and the road construction lobby – bears down upon the communities of North Kent and Southern Essex, determined to bludgeon them into consent. This consultation is one more truncheon in their armoury.

The ‘Lower Thames Crossing’ is a misnomer. This is not a ‘crossing’, a term that implies a ferryboat or a shallow ford. It does not even go ‘across’ the wide brown Thames as she meets the salt North Sea in Gravesend Reach. Rather the plan is to build a tunnel under the Thames – the longest such tunnel in the UK – and crucially to build 14 miles of motorway that will draw traffic away from the M25 at the rate (they proudly assert) of 13 million vehicles a year.

The scheme is heavily contested. There has been active opposition for years by individuals, groups and councillors across Kent and Essex – and through the Transport Action Network[3], from far beyond. This scheme is less well known that the Silvertown Tunnel[4] that is planned to be built further up the Thames, closer into London and which also being bitterly fought over. This massive scheme has faced determined resistance from groups including Choked Up and Extinction Rebellion as well as the key councils from both sides of the Thames. There’s been direct action and in the heat of last June 600 marched from through Newham with samba band and banners.

Destiny Boka Batesa of Choked Up speaking at demonstration against Silvertown Tunnel

In the Lower Thames the struggle is led by the stalwart Thames Crossing Action Group[5], who have a brilliant website jammed with information. Among the Group is Laura Blake who spoke so articulately at two of the Crude Britannia events which Platform ran as part of Estuary 2021[6] in May this year.

The front page of the National Highways website is uncharacteristically revealing in one key line. It says the Lower Thames Crossing is

MUCH MORE THAN A ROAD

Indeed it is. National Highways intend this statement to celebrate the proposed new areas of replanted woodland, the myriad jobs the project will generate over its six years of construction, and the apprenticeships it promises. But the statement reveals the deeper truth of the scheme. This motorway is much more than a road: it is a weapon of climate destruction.

It is fundamentally a highway in entirely the wrong direction. The agency says the scheme will ‘explore new ways to reduce emissions’ and ‘help build our low carbon future.’ But these lines are laughable and fraudulent. The very essence of the scheme is that it will make travelling by car and truck easier, for it intends to reduce congestion at the Dartford Crossing. It is highly unlikely that it will reduce traffic flow at Dartford, but this would not come from a reduction in the numbers of vehicles on the road. Easing traffic will only incentivise people to travel by car. A true attempt to ‘reduce emissions’ would be to invest in the rail networks of Essex and Kent, and indeed make then link up. Such a rail line was proposed in 2008, but seems to have been dropped in the intervening 13 years.

The scheme blunders and bludgeons its way ahead, aided by its own inertia and the sheer weight of government funding. But it is detached from the unfolding realities around it. In the past decade the signals of Climate Chaos have become ever louder, so much so that they have fired the movement that has changed both national and local government policy.

On 25th June 2019 Gravesham Borough Council[7]– on the Kent side of the Thames – declared a Climate Emergency. It stated that they:

‘pledge to do what is within its powers and resources to make Gravesham Borough Council carbon neutral by 2030, taking into account both production and consumption emissions’

Four months later Thurrock Borough Council[8] – on the Essex shore – made a similar declaration, to go Net Zero by 2030.

The proposed motorway would drive six lanes of traffic through the heart of both Gravesham and Thurrock and is scheduled to open in late 2029. This thundering roar of petrol and diesel engines will apparently arrive just in time to make a mockery of any attempts by the two boroughs to reach their CO2 emissions targets.

The Climate Emergency in Gravesham was announced by the Leader of the Council, Councillor John Burden, and had been piloted to this point by Councillor Sarah Gow. These two were both democratically elected on a manifesto that included strong resistance to the motorway. MPs and individual County Councillors on both sides of the river have opposed the scheme. Although shockingly, Kent County Council is for it. However, resistance has been brushed aside by central government, which declares this motorway to be of national importance. It joins a long trail of projects planned out by Whitehall and Westminster that overrule the concerns of those that live in any particular place.

For this massive scheme has a long history. It is essentially a child of Abercrombie’s Plan for Greater London published in 1944, which proposed the remodelling of the capital and its region into an oil city, a Petropolis. (We describe the background and impact of the plan in our book Crude Britannia[9].) Now nearly 80 years later, the three refineries that were built in the Thames Estuary have all closed, but this has not meant that the London region has left petro-culture behind. The weight of traffic on the M25 is ample demonstration of this and enables the Highways Agency to demand this new motorway.

And the scheme is intended to have a long future. The timeline on the consultation document runs little beyond the proposed opening of the scheme in 2029. However as the document declares, the first element of the crossing at Dartford was opened nearly sixty years ago. We can assume that the proposed scheme has a projected life span of a similar length, out to say 2070. Nationally we are supposed to have reached Net Zero twenty years prior to this.

This motorway is a twin to the planned oil fields West of Shetland, including the now notorious Cambo field which faces stiff resistance from the #stopcambo[10] campaign. These oil projects are intended to produce fossil fuels into the 2050s. Their construction would set in concrete and steel part of the future of Britain. The ‘Lower Thames Crossing’ is likewise, it is indeed much more than a road, it is an essay in tarmac. It is an attempt to set down a certain distorted vision of the future for this region.

Demonstration by Stop Cambo outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

We need to radically reduce petrol and diesel vehicles on the roads, and not simply imagine we can replace them with electric vehicles, by implementing a just transition to other forms of transport, and other notions of travel. And this needs to be mirrored by a shift in thinking in capital. We need to move away from industries that are driven by the need to profit from building Motorways such as these, and shift away from drawing income from shares in such industries. Both Kent and Essex have been woefully slow in moving to divest their pension schemes out of equities in oil and gas companies, they still build the future security of their staff on corporations that are pushing forward Climate Chaos (see https://www.divest.org.uk/councils/.[11])

The motorway of the Lower Thames Crossing takes us in entirely the wrong direction. It is time to change direction, NOW. Give your support to those opposing the scheme[12].

Thanks to Jane Trowell & Ben Lennon

[13]

Endnotes:
  1. Community Impacts Consultation: https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/ltc/community-impacts-consultation-2021/
  2. We have blogged on these matters before: https://platformlondon.org/2016/09/06/everything-in-motion-of-swallows-and-resistance-to-the-lower-thames-crossing/
  3. Transport Action Network: https://transportactionnetwork.org.uk/
  4. Silvertown Tunnel: https://silvertowntunnel.co.uk/
  5. Thames Crossing Action Group: https://www.thamescrossingactiongroup.com/
  6. Estuary 2021: https://www.estuaryfestival.com/event/detail/future-of-energy-.html
  7. Gravesham Borough Council:
  8. Thurrock Borough Council: https://www.climateemergency.uk/blog/thurrock/
  9. Crude Britannia: http://www.plutobooks.com/9781786806390/crude-britannia/
  10. #stopcambo: https://www.stopcambo.org.uk/
  11. https://www.divest.org.uk/councils/.: https://www.divest.org.uk/councils/.
  12. those opposing the scheme: https://www.thamescrossingactiongroup.com/
  13. : #_ftnref1

In September 2020, Platform released a report, OFFSHORE: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition,[1] in collaboration with Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace UK. The report was the culmination of the first large-scale survey of offshore oil and gas workers in the UK, surveying 1,383 workers (approximately 5% of the offshore workforce). 

The survey, among other things, found that 81% of oil and gas workers would consider leaving the industry, that job security was their top concern both in oil and gas and in considering changing industries, and that over half would be interested in renewables or offshore wind. 

In hundreds of conversations with offshore oil and gas workers since the release of the survey, the vast majority identified training costs as a major barrier to successfully transitioning to other areas of the energy sector. 

In taking a worker-led approach to campaigning for an energy transition, Platform understands that a ‘just transition’ requires the inclusion of oil and gas workers in any substantial decision-making, and as such, centres worker consultation in research and campaigning. 

Our campaign is shaped by what workers want from their governments and employers, and training is a major issue identified by the workforce. Over the last three months Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace UK have run a training costs survey for the workforce, surveying over 600 offshore oil and gas workers.

Read the training costs survey results here [PDF]

Key survey results: 

  • 74% are employed ad-hoc as contractors rather than as a ‘core crew’ employees
  • 97% are concerned about the UK’s offshore energy industry training costs 
  • 69% spent over £2000 of their own money on training including safety and trade-specific costs in the last two years, which is up 15% from before 2015. 
  • 65% said their employer contributed 0% to their training costs including safety and first aid training in the past two years. 
  • 94% would support an ‘offshore passport’, which would license accredited workers to work offshore in any sector through a cross-industry minimum training requirement.

The inadequacies and issues around training infrastructure for offshore workers is a growing problem, and one that has been allowed to escalate through a combination of negligence by government and regulatory bodies, relentless profiteering by training companies, and poorly implemented schemes.

 

Read more about the role of governments and industry here [PDF]. [2]

Read our press release with Friends of the Earth Scotland, Greenpeace UK, RMT and Unite Scotland here[3].

 

Together, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform, Greenpeace, RMT and Unite Scotland are calling for:

  • The implementation of an Offshore Training Passport which will allow workers to move freely between offshore and onshore energy sectors (ie renewables, oil and gas, and decommissioning) with a standardisation of certification across roles and sectors, and clarity that a certificate in date does not need to be repeated. This should be accessible to all workers, including ad hoc contractors.
  • The UK Government, BEIS in particular, and the Scottish Government, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work, in particular, must lead this process and work directly with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to set standards for working conditions. 
  • A training fund for the offshore passport should be established as part of the North Sea Transition Deal to directly support workers rather than companies, which can be accessed by individual, self-employed and contract workers rather than only through employers.
  • The Scottish Government to explore how the National Transition Training Fund and Green Jobs Workforce Academy can help address these issues.
  • Industry backing of an Offshore Training Passport to ensure full compliance across the sector. 

 

If you are a worker and would like to get involved in campaigning for an Offshore Passport and other transition policies that would benefit you and your colleagues, please contact our Just Transition Campaigner Gabrielle Jeliazkov at [email protected][4].

 

Find out more about how this is impacting workers, read two case studies from James* and Callum*.

Case study: James

James lives in London with his partner and two daughters. He began working in the offshore oil & gas industry 24 years ago. He now primarily works in offshore wind, though also does some work in oil and gas still. In the last 2 years he has paid at least £6000 of his own money on certificates and training.

 “I bear all training costs myself, from my own pocket, and to become competitive with other divers the more qualifications you have, the better chance you have of working. I know there are a lot of guys who aren’t able to get the work I do because of the downturn at the moment, and through lack of work they can’t afford to keep the certificates up to date. I’ve been really lucky.

The market is flooded with divers who are out of work, and to give yourself the best chance you have to have both OPITO [oil and gas] and GWO [wind] certificates, even though they have vast similarities. Where there are differences these should be done as a top-up course rather than a whole new one. As soon as we go offshore we legally have to have a 3-day first aid training course which supersedes the one we then have to pay for from GWO to work in wind. When I first got into renewables it was still in it’s infancy so you could use the same training certificates, but now they have their own, and in my opinion it’s the businesses trying to make money off us. I have to have training for working at height just to get offshore in wind, even though all my work is underwater, it doesn’t make any sense.

People aren’t sure oil & gas has much left in the long-term and are trying to make the transition slowly. However, 100% there are guys who are being priced out of it. If you have guys that are experienced in oil & gas, then transferring into offshore renewables shouldn’t be taxing because by and large the knowledge they have will supersede the knowledge they need. But they’re being made to pay out of pocket to renew certificates.

An offshore passport would help reduce duplication between different training bodies. It should allow workers to move more easily between oil & gas and renewables by negating questions from clients/employers as to whether certain qualifications are recognised within that particular sector. The offshore passport should also mean that people aren’t paying out of pocket to go on training that they don’t need.”

 

Case study: Callum 

Callum*, aged 55, from Glasgow has 35 years’ experience working offshore in a variety of roles, in both oil and decommissioning. He’s spent between £6,000 and £8,000 over two years on training costs, with no financial help from employers. 

It’s become more and more relevant over the last few years. Previously companies would pay towards your qualifications but that’s been slowly diminishing over the years. And the training you need for clean energy, for wind turbines, definitely overlaps. You need the same core skills to do the work, but you’ve got to have paid for both qualifications.

There’s some kinds of training that is supposed to be for newcomers, but now you have to repeat it every two years even if you’re going on for thirty-odd years in the industry like me. It’s so repetitive and you’re not learning anything new.

These training firms have found a niche in the market and they’ve exploited it. It’s a lot of money to ask of people just to go to work. And there’s no guarantees you’ll get work or keep work once you’ve paid for the training. More and more you’re seeing zero hours contracts, or you’re paying out big sums of money for only two or three months’ work. It’s tough and it can have an adverse effect on your family too.

I have become disillusioned with the industry. They preach about loyalty but it really is a one way street. And they’ll sacrifice you at the drop of a hat.

For people to get into renewables, it’s expensive. It’s down to the individual to pay, and the certifications are non-transferrable even though the core skills are the same as you’d need for offshore oil and gas. It’s farcical.

I have tried to get into it, but it’s difficult to get in. You’re told: ‘You don’t have the right qualifications, you don’t have the right certification.

So there’s no way in unless you’re willing to pay out thousands. It’s a real deterrent when you get told that.”

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

Endnotes:
  1. OFFSHORE: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition,: https://platformlondon.org/p-publications/offshore-oil-and-gas-workers-views/
  2. Read more about the role of governments and industry here [PDF]. : https://platformlondon.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Training-Costs-Survey-Results.pdf
  3. Read our press release with Friends of the Earth Scotland, Greenpeace UK, RMT and Unite Scotland here: https://platformlondon.org/p-pressreleases/training-costs-chaos-blocks-oil-workers-moving-to-renewables/
  4. [email protected]: mailto:[email protected]

Platform is a research and advocacy organisation with a focus on energy system change. Our current campaigns focus on the social, economic and environmental impacts of the global oil industry.

The organisation is led by the staff in a distributed leadership model where the direction and strategy are decided collectively. We self-manage issues through a Management group, which is a subset of the staff with its membership rotating regularly. But of course, Platform’s success over the past 30 years wouldn’t be possible without our incredible Trustee board! 

Our Trustees meet four times a year, and we have excellent retention, with the average tenure of trusteeship being 6 years. We’re currently looking to enlarge and diversify our board. 

You can find the roles and responsibilities of a Trustee at Platform here. 

In short, you would be expected to attend three of the four meetings a year and the Annual General Meeting and should be interested in supporting the development of Platform’s aims, both through strategic input and specific advice based on your background. 

We are particularly looking for Trustees who have expertise in finance, the law, fundraising, communications and campaigning, but general management and governance experience would also be valuable. If you think your skills or expertise could be a good fit or would like to ask some more questions about the role, please email Sarah at [email protected][1]!

We are doing an open call for applications to the Trustee Board, we expect the process to be a rolling one that continues for the rest of the year but we would like to start talking to people in July. The following document outlines the roles and responsibilities our Trustees are expected to perform:

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 If you would like to put yourself forward for this role please send a C.V. and a covering letter to [email protected][1]. Recruitment would involve a short interview with members of staff, followed by an interview with the current Trustee board so that everyone – yourself, staff and current trustees – can assess whether they feel it will be a good fit. 

Endnotes:
  1. [email protected]: mailto:[email protected]
  2. View Fullscreen: https://platformlondon.org/wp-content/plugins/pdfjs-viewer-shortcode/pdfjs/web/viewer.php?file=/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/PLATFORM-TRUSTEES.pdf&dButton=true&pButton=true&oButton=false&sButton=true#zoom=auto&pagemode=none

Platform’s Just Transition campaign seeks a well-managed phase out of oil and gas production in the North Sea.

This includes preventing future oil and gas licensing rounds, halting fossil fuel subsidies, and most importantly, ensuring that Just Transition measures are implemented during the phase out (i.e. large-scale job creation, re-training and re-skilling, safeguarding worker rights and decision-making consulting with impacted workers and communities). 

Over the past few years, the Scottish government has frequently co-opted the term ‘just transition’ to make their business as usual seem more palatable. Words can’t replace the actions needed to end support for the oil and gas industry or deliver an energy transition that works for communities and workers. 

For Platform, a Just Transition requires a worker-led approach, where workers are included in any substantial decision-making and impacted communities benefit from the transition. 

When communities on the front lines are left out of generating solutions, those solutions often fail to deliver justice. We see this happening with the North Sea right now. 

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Boris Johnson has signed off new oil and gas in the North Sea. He’s bailing out oil bosses, rather than building a secure future for oil workers and our climate.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon told voters “I want to see that transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable sources of energy.” Yet she’s not standing up to Boris Johnson now.

Existing reserves for oil and gas – including in the UK – would push the world past the agreed climate limit of 1.5oC, meaning we must begin to wind down UK production to tackle the climate crisis – starting with an end to new licensing. We need to make sure oil and gas workers aren’t hung out to dry as shipbuilders and coal miners were in the 1980s. It’s time Nicola Sturgeon’s government prioritised workers, local communities and the climate.

Sign the petition, and help to ensure impacted workers and communities benefit from the energy transition. 

Nicola Sturgeon: Side with Scottish workers and the climate, not oil bosses

Dear First Minister Nicola Sturgeon,

Side with Scottish workers and communities, not Boris Johnson and oil bosses.

Tell Westminster that to tackle the climate emergency, Scotland needs a proper “just transition” away from fossil fuels to decent, green jobs.

Commit to a just transition:
End support for new oil and gas licences
Support representation of oil and gas workers in planning how to phase out fossil fuels
Create a government funded plan for retraining available to all
Guarantee unionised, green jobs with secure contracts for offshore workers

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Do you work in the offshore oil and gas industry? Have you worked in the industry in the past? Join our workshops to determine what a just energy transition looks like and learn how we can fight for our demands. 

First workshop: Saturday 13 March 2021 10:00am – 1:00pm over Zoom.

Our report, OFFSHORE: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition[1] released in September 2020 showcased what we already knew: the oil and gas industry is a volatile place to work, and the lack of support from industry and government through the energy transition is only making things worse. The report is built off a survey of 1,383 offshore oil and gas workers, asking how Covid-19 has impacted their lives, their views on life in the industry and their hopes and solutions for the energy transition.

81% of offshore oil and gas workers said they would consider changing industries, and 43% had been made redundant or furloughed between March and August 2020. Over 50% of survey respondents deemed government support at all levels ‘nowhere near enough’. 

More than half of respondents would be interested in retraining to work in renewables and offshore wind – so why isn’t this an option? Why are bosses allowed to offload training costs, employment costs and general responsibilities onto a workforce that has been shifted into largely contract or self-employed work? Why is the government allowed to talk about investment in green industries but not make sure companies provide safe and secure jobs? 

Our new ‘Taking Control: Building oil and gas workers’ power in the energy transition’ workshops are designed to help you – workers in the oil and gas industry – figure out what your top concerns are and how you want to fight for them. How should we work together to demand more out of your bosses? Politicians? Do you want to make sure your local council is making the right decisions for you and your family? Join us, learn about our plan to win so far and tell us what needs to happen. Let’s build an energy transition that works for everyone! 

Sign up:

Endnotes:
  1. OFFSHORE: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition: https://platformlondon.org/p-publications/offshore-oil-and-gas-workers-views/