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Chevron Set for Oil Drilling in UK’s North Sea

Leon Kaye | Tuesday October 5th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Anyone who believed that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would force countries to take a second look at deepwater oil drilling of their coasts are mistaken.  The United Kingdom’s government just gave Chevron the green light to start a polarizing deepwater oil exploration project in the North Sea, near the Shetland Islands.

Prior to this project, few folks would have heard of Lagavulin, a village on the south shore of Islay.  Scotch whiskey connoisseurs could tell you about Lagavulin Single Malt, but now Chevron’s eponymous oil exploration project has drawn the hamlet’s attention, especially Greenpeace’s ire.  Chevron believes it can find oil at a depth of almost a mile deep.  Greenpeace believes the North Sea’s ecosystem is too fragile and not worth the risk.  Chevron as not yet announced the Lagavulin Project start date, but expect Greenpeace to keep up the fight; the NGO said it is exploring legal action.

The coalition government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change sided with an energy company this time around.  While the UK government believes that it must find alternative sources of energy—and a visit of its website reveals plenty of evidence that the agency is serious—such technologies are not ready to scale.  The choice is offshore oil exploration or importing fossil fuels from abroad, the latter a much more distasteful prospect.  The government claims it has encouraged the development of technologies such as wind energy, but those have sometimes collided with local interests.

Greenpeace counters that the lessons in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrate that companies and regulatory agencies must rethink offshore oil exploration.  Greenpeace activists spent several days cocooned in a “survival pod,” attached to a Chevron oil drill ship in order to delay any exploration.  A legal injunction ended that protest, another chapter in Greenpeace’s advocacy for the North Sea.  Greenpeace has a long history of working to prevent what they call the region’s exploitation, whether it is from overfishing or now, oil drilling.

Chevron claims it has a long history of safety in the North Sea.  The UK has a ways to go to ensure that 20% its energy portfolio comes from renewable sources by 2020, a target to which many European nations have committed.  Is additional offshore oil exploration just the reality for another decade or so?  As one UK resident commented, a comparison of the oil industry in the North Sea to the Gulf of Mexico is a false one: Norwegians, for example, have a solid safety record when it comes to their oil industry.  Should Chevron be granted a pass until other forms of energy can pick up the slack?  The odds are that Greenpeace and Chevron officials will not discuss this over that Lagavulin single malt any time soon . . .


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