On Wednesday, Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish government minister for Energy, Connectivity, and the Islands, suggested that firms operating in the North Sea should start using wind turbines to power their oil and gas platforms.
This initiative is already being trialled in Norway by the country’s state-owned petroleum company, Equinor, Wheelhouse said, and could help the UK oil industry realize its “low carbon ambitions” ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year.
Edinburgh, Scotland—Five years ago, when Scotland voted in a landmark referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom, the issue of North Sea oil—who owns it and how it should be administered—was a key feature of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) independence platform. If—as seems increasingly likely in the context of Britain’s ongoing scramble over Brexit—Scots vote again on the future of their union with England, the heavy winds and tides that buffet Scotland’s coastline will play an equally critical role in the next campaign.
By some estimates, Scotland has 25 percent of Europe’s total offshore wind and tidal resources and around 60 percent of the U.K.’s onshore wind capacity. Renewable energy is worth nearly 6 billion pounds (about $7.5 billion) annually to the Scottish economy—and green electricity exports are rising every year. But in the face of an accelerating global ecological crisis, both advocates and opponents of Scottish independence think the country can go further in embracing alternative energy sources—they simply disagree on whether Scottish independence would help or hurt that goal.
In the 1970s and ’80s, North Sea oil was the key symbol of Scotland’s political impotence and lost economic sovereignty.
In the future, renewable energy could occupy a similar place in our national psyche.
In December 1969, the Amoco Corporation struck oil 130 miles east of the Aberdeenshire shoreline—and the axis of Scottish politics suddenly shifted.
In the years that followed, the claim that Scotland’s economy was too weak to support an independent state rapidly crumbled.