May 252017

With thanks to Jonathan Russell, Chair of Aberdeen and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and member of Aberdeen Climate Action and Duncan Hart  who produced the youtube videos.

On March 25th Aberdeen Climate Action and Aberdeen And District CND jointly sponsored a meeting on the above.

The idea of the meeting was to share ideas of the challenges faced by diversification and to kick-start change. 

This is the third of five articles being produced for Aberdeen Voice and concerns a talk on Community Renewables by Jelte Harnmeajer who works for the Hutton Institute and also runs his own consultancy in Community Renewables.

Jelte’s talk was entitled ‘Resilience through renewables’ and he gives examples of where local communities by running their own energy concerns can greatly benefit their local communities. In Denmark 86% of renewable projects are owned by local communities yet in the UK it is only 4%.

However, it is now the fastest growing means of developing renewables and has huge potential in the Aberdeen and surrounding areas if we start getting our act together.

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May 192017

With thanks to Jonathan Russell, Chair of Aberdeen and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and member of Aberdeen Climate Action and Duncan Hart  who produced the youtube videos.

On March 25th Aberdeen Climate Action and Aberdeen And District CND jointly sponsored a meeting on the above.

The idea of the meeting was to share ideas of the challenges faced by diversification and to kick-start change. 

This is the second of five articles being produced for Aberdeen Voice. It is a talk by Erik Dalhuijsen who is co-chair of Aberdeen Climate Action a physicist by training who runs his own consultancy.

Erik’s talk is particularly pertinent to Aberdeen’s future given the decline in work in the oil industry. Erik outlines how the huge costs of decommissioning will increase over time and that there is a mismatch between the needs of Aberdeen for its future and Government policy. To reduce costs and save jobs de-commissioning should be the Aberdeen Economy’s number one priority.

Erik explains how the experts who are guiding Government policy are from the carbon past and have their own financial interests at heart in delaying de-commissioning and a noncarbon future.

The oil industry is projecting the need for more oil production at a time when Governments have signed up to reduce Carbon emissions to reduce Climate change. At the same time the costs of producing alternative energy are falling and at a time when other countries are moving rapidly to embrace alternative energy we here in Aberdeen are holding onto

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May 122017

With thanks to Jonathan Russell, Chair of Aberdeen and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and member of Aberdeen Climate Action and Duncan Hart and Michael Reinsborough who produced the youtube videos.

On March 25th Aberdeen Climate Action and Aberdeen And District CND jointly sponsored a meeting on the above.
The idea of the meeting was to share ideas of the challenges faced by diversification and to kick-start change. The meeting was chaired by Fiona Napier who is a local trade unionist and activist.

There were four speakers

  • Veronika Tudhope, Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament,
  • Jelte Hammeijer, Hutton Institute,
  • Erik Dalhuijsen, Aberdeen Climate Action,
  • Myshele Haywood, Green Party.

Each of these talks will appear in Aberdeen Voice over the coming weeks.

We started however by a film about the Lucas Plan with an introduction from Michael Reinsborourgh from Breaking the Frame.

Michael had been involved with a similar event in Birmingham and who was pivotal in making the meeting in Aberdeen happen.

The Lucas Plan was a pioneering effort by workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. It remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change.

Today, in 2017 — 41years after the Lucas Plan — we’re facing a convergence of crises: climate chaos, militarism and nuclear weapons, and the destruction of jobs by automation.

These crises mean we have to start thinking about technology as political, as the Lucas Aerospace workers did.

The documentary is on you tube please open the link below

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Mar 242017

On March 12th, in California, a Trump Golf course was vandalised by protesters. By contrast, in this very British protest, the important issues were discussed over a cup of tea!

Dr Jo House, University of Bristol with Ms Yashinee Aulum, TIGLS.

With thanks to Martin Ford.

On Saturday 18th March, climate scientists travelled to Trump International Golf Links, Scotland (TIGLS) to present a copy of The Ladybird Expert Guide to Climate Change, authored by HRH The Prince of Wales, and a statement on the importance of science and evidence in climate change policy making issued earlier this week by the Royal Meteorological Society.

The climate scientists wanted to highlight concerns that recent rhetoric and decisions from the Trump administration are contrary to the overwhelming evidence base on climate change and how it needs to be addressed.

Unexpectedly, they were offered the opportunity to discuss their concerns over a cup of tea!

The Head of Hospitality and Guest Services for TIGLS, Ms Yashinee Aulum, was pleased to receive the presentation. TIGLS is a business greatly affected by day-to-day weather, and one potentially at risk from future climate change.

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The visit to TIGLS followed a public science meeting at the University of Aberdeen entitled ‘Science and climate change in an alternative facts world’ which was held as part of British Science Week. The meeting was chaired by Prof Jo Smith (University of Aberdeen), and talks were given by:

Prof Piers Forster, University of Leeds,
Prof Terry Dawson, Kings College London,
Prof Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen,
Dr Jo House, University of Bristol,
Cllr Dr Martin Ford, Aberdeenshire Councillor.

Before the meeting, Prof Pete Smith, University of Aberdeen, who has served as Convening Lead Author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said:

“Climate change, and the way to deal with it, has been accepted by 196 countries at the Paris Climate Agreement, but Mr Trump has appointed a climate denier as the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and has previously pledged to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The fact is, we need the US to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the ambitious targets set out in the agreement.

“We all share the same atmosphere, so misguided actions in the US will not only affect Americans, it will affect everyone on the planet. We cannot allow decisions based upon ideology to replace those based on scientific evidence – and that is why we are holding this meeting today, during British Science Week – to urge Mr Trump’s administration to take the advice of its own climate scientists, and stick to US commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“The US will benefit from this. Failing to act when you don’t have the evidence is in some cases understandable – but failing to act when you are in full possession of the facts, which amounts to wilful ignorance, is inexcusable, and will cause great damage to the world we leave for our children and grand-children.”

Prof Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate, University of Leeds said:

“The US is a democracy that I am not part of so they are entitled to pass what ever crazy laws they want. If they want to burn more coal it upsets me but it is ultimately not my call.  However, I worry when their policies threaten science.

“The US administration are really contradicting themselves, saying there is not enough evidence that carbon dioxide causes global warming, then promptly threatening to cut agencies that collect the evidence. Scientists around the world depend on NASA and NOAA satellites and on the efforts of many US colleagues. More than ever we should be basing decisions on evidence rather than ideologies, and I hope the US administration wakes up and realises this.”

Prof Jo Smith, University of Aberdeen added:

“The lives of people in low income countries are already challenged by extreme weather events; climate change will make this worse. We can’t gamble with their lives. Climate change will mean more droughts and floods, and more people will die. The science is clear, so climate policies must be based on this evidence.”

Prof Terry Dawson, Chair in Global Environmental Change, Department of Geography, King’s College London commented:

“This year, the United Nations predicts the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II with several East African Countries being severely affected by drought. The lack of rain has contributed to massive livestock deaths, food and water shortages, acute malnutrition and widespread famine.

“Future climate change is expected to increase the magnitude and frequency of extreme climate events, such as droughts or floods and it is the poorest people in society that are most vulnerable to its negative effects.

“Climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction and we, as scientists, feel a moral imperative to urge our political leaders act now – inaction or delay is inexcusable.”

Dr Jo House, Cabot Institute, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol said:

“The Trump administration is choosing to ignore or deny the overwhelming scientific consensus on dangers of climate change to people’s health and well-being already, as well as in the future, and the urgency of putting in place long-term plans.

“We are affected in the UK by America’s emissions, but I have no voice there. Sadly similar denial or lack of action is taking place in our own country from a small number of newspapers, businesses and politicians.  UK governments since Margaret Thatcher have been at the forefront of climate action, as they, like the 196 governments who just signed the Paris Agreement, listened to the evidence and understood its importance.

“Climate change has recently slipped down the agenda of the Government. Many countries, states, and businesses have managed to slow or reduce their emissions while still increasing profitability. I am taking part in this meeting to stand up for evidence and for action, not just in America, but here at home.”

Aberdeenshire councillor Martin Ford said:

“Mr Trump is an environmental disaster. We knew that from his actions in Aberdeenshire over the last ten years, but now he can take decisions with global consequences. Mr Trump’s denial of climate change science will make progress with tackling the biggest threat facing the world immensely more difficult.”

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Mar 172017

Aberdeen Climate Week events will include talks, debates, walks, films and exhibits.

With thanks to Erik Dalhuijsen.

Aberdeen Climate Action will be asking us all to make a change for climate change during this year’s Climate Week North East.
The 3rd Climate Week will be taking place from the 18th-25th March and promises to be bigger than ever, featuring lots of fun and thought-provoking events across Aberdeen City and Shire.

With events ranging from panel discussions, rangers walks & bike rides, children’s storytelling, tours of the Donside Community Hydro, films, talks and exhibits, zero waste cafes and much, much more, Climate Week North East is designed to showcase the inspiring action happening here in the North East and elsewhere, demonstrate what each of us can do to help, and inform along the way.

One highlight of the week will be a showcase of the community initiatives taking place around the North East at the Central Library on Wednesday 22nd March at 6.30pm.

The events come at a key time for Aberdeen following the downturn in the oil and gas industry when residents are looking for new jobs in new industries and calling for a more diversified economy within the North East. It is also set against a backdrop of increased need for action on climate change.

Alison Stuart of Aberdeen Climate Action said:

“The effects of climate change such as extreme weather conditions affect us all, last winter saw terrible flooding in parts of Aberdeenshire which left us with a bill well over £1.3 billion.

“All of us can do something individually to help reduce climate change, reducing the amount of waste we produce, recycling what we can, eating more local produce and walking, cycling or taking the bus instead of a car. But together we can do so much more, whether acting with our communities or bringing up climate change with our politicians to get support for the big changes needed.

“We have some excellent events on including a discussion panel with Professor Pete Smith of the IPCC and Aberdeen University and other prominent scientists as well as a host of events across Aberdeen City and Shire making this the best Climate Week in Aberdeen yet. 

“This is a great opportunity for anyone who would simply like to know a little more or for those that really want to get more deeply involved. Aberdeen is at a crossroads and I hope that this event can help to spark real change and help people to see the value of greater diversification within the local economy to more towards a sustainable and stable green economy.”

Erik Dalhuijsen of Aberdeen Climate Action said:

“Climate Change has massive impact on Aberdeen, its people and the world at large. The oil economy will end, agriculture and society will see increasing cost and challenges from flooding, worldwide access to fresh water will reduce, diseases spread. It is absolutely worth doing our utmost to prevent escalation of Climate Change.

“Aberdeen, city and shire, are well placed to be a part of the solution. Our week of events looks at many aspects of climate change with talks, debates, walks, films and exhibits to get people thinking and inspire them to take action. It especially focuses on local input, highlighting what is being done here and elsewhere driven by locals, showing what people, business and governments can do to reduce emissions, improve green transport, and make our entire society more pleasant, healthy and future proof.”

Full list of events here:

More on Aberdeen Climate Action here:

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Aug 042016

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over recent events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.


The answers to the world’s problems have been right under our noses all this time. Not until we elected Teresa May to run UK plc did we find out there were so many ways to solve the world’s problems. Between May and Donald Trump – who has some very interesting means of making America and the whole world Great Again – I think we’re on the brink of world peace. More on that later, but get the champagne ready.

Firstly, apologies for the late running of this service. I’ve been on a journalism course in London for a few days, then I went on holiday.

The Centre for Investigative Journalism threw its annual summer school, which was for the most part very interesting.

There were some people from Bristol who started a newspaper and are selling shares in it. It’s a whole year old and a whole new way to get local communities involved in news. To Fred Wilkinson – maybe we should try something like that in Aberdeen? Just a thought.

Anyway the highlight of the summer school was the Panama Papers. The men who received the Panama Papers leak and brought it to the world, Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer, gave a talk.

It was kind of boring though – unless you’re interested in minor details like who is really running the world, who’s funding wars and drug production, which countries are starving their citizens while their elite are buying London penthouses, and what companies launder dirty money.

If you for some reason do care about money flowing through a German law firm in Panama to oppressive regimes, shady billionaires and known criminals, and care about this leak which saw prime ministers (Iceland) resign, further FIFA scandal, Putin and his money-moving pals named, this may be of some passing interest.

Obermaier and Obermayer must be pretty lazy journalists; they’ve not even read all the information leaked to them, and instead are just letting anyone look into the leaked documents here.  It’s as if they wanted to share information or something.  Coming in at 11.5 million documents spanning 40 years and still growing, it might take a few more weeks for them to read everything.

Why bother with dusty old shell companies and billions of pounds when you could be out there looking for a Pokemon Squirtle? For one thing, the Panama Papers database shows there is more than just beauty, glamour and wit to be found in Manhattan’s Trump Towers.

Someone operates out of Donald Drumpf’s building a wee company called Concord International Investments. This has a wee related company, Concord Consultant Services Ltd. This small enterprise, operating from the British Virgin Islands, has some interesting directors. There’s Sheik Aly Hafiz Wahba (apparently a Saudi minister), and, er. the Isis Investment Group.

The Concord lot are tied into a company called Barfield which operates down under.

Also this summer, I’ve been trying to read up on science a bit.

Its registered address is shared with a whole host of interesting nominee companies.

I could go on – and will do if I can ever unravel it all.

But I think we can agree on one thing: even if Mr Drumpf is not directly involved in any of these companies operating out of his building (let’s face it, you might not even know who operates out of your flagship premises if you’re a mere real estate moghul), it shows that there is no bias against people from other cultures in the Trump world. Well done Mr T.

‘What do any of these companies and people do?’ you might ask. I’m sure they must do something more than transfer money around from place to place (and let’s face it, that’s hard work itself as we all know). If I ever find out, I’ll let you know. So, hunt your Pokemon by all means. Perhaps someone out there however might like to spend some time chasing down the rich and powerful using the Panama Papers leak. Just a thought.

Also this summer, I’ve been trying to read up on science a bit. It must be getting more important and popular, as there are more TV-related science programmes on now.

Did you know some people think the world is even more than 6,000 years old? I read this week that the woolly mammoths might have died from thirst. It seems when the climate was changing, their drinking water supplies started to dwindle and get contaminated by all the critters trying to get water. They all competed for the dwindling water, trampling the existing resources such as food plants into the ground, and there were too many of them to eat and drink in a world which was changing.

I mean, it’s kind of interesting to read about that kind of stuff I guess – but it’s not as if we can really learn much which is useful to us now about overpopulation in a species using up its food and other resources to the point of no return. And that brings me back to how the world’s been saved and why we should be grateful.

Climate Change: (Old English proper compound noun) Outdated fashionable notion the earth, biodiversity, and life in general were under threat of some kind

Climate Change Problem Solved! Result!

Not even a month into her stewardship of the United Kingdom, Teresa May has in one fell (very fell) swoop fixed the climate change problem: she closed the former ‘Department for Energy and Climate Change’. 

we’re probably going to start using more coal and ‘shale gas extraction’

Sensibly, it’s now part of the much more important new entity ‘Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’.

I can’t tell you how happy I am.

Simple solutions to complex problems. Worried about Cimate Change? Answer: sweep it under the rug – or at least into another department which acknowledges business and energy are more important than the climate changing.

There are a few climate change denier deniers out there. They’ve had some hurtful words for our new PM such as:

“Stephen Devlin, an environmental economist at the New Economics Foundation (NEF), said the department’s abolition was a terrible move by our new Prime Minister”.

He said it appeared to signal “a troubling de-prioritisation of climate change by this government”.

“Tackling climate change is an era-defining challenge that must direct and determine what industries we develop, what transport infrastructure we construct, how we manage our land and what our diets look like. It requires a central co-ordinated strategy; if we leave it to the afterthoughts of other departments we will fail,” he said.

“This reshuffle risks dropping climate change from the policy agenda altogether – a staggering act of negligence for which we will all pay the price.”

But don’t let the alarmists worry you. It’s not as if there is any history of our Conservatives appeasing businesses, and if climate change were lucrative – sorry – important, we’d probably get round to doing something about it.

Instead we’re probably going to start using more coal and ‘shale gas extraction’. This is great, because it means more jobs. Furthermore, the article has over 800 comments from people calling climate change denier deniers ‘weirdos, cranks and lefties’ – so that’s any scientific or environmental campaigners’ told.

If you happen to look at statistics that show the world is warming at the same time our fossil fuel consumption is increasing, that the Maldives risk flooding (as many other places), that there are freak storm systems defying known patterns, then just remember – the world changes a lot, there are other things to think about (Pokemon, celebrity baking on ice). If there were a problem, Teresa May would be on it. So – rejoice! Problem solved.

Terrorism: (Modern international noun) The belief that violence and shock are the best means to win arguments, gain power and destroy opposition.

Terrorism – that’s so yesterday. We’re going to elect Donald Trump president, and he’s already itching to know why we just haven’t nuked the terrorists. With an incisive mind like that, should the unthinkable happen and he loses the election, we could always put him out as a diplomat. After all, talking tough is the only thing that’s respected, and we must stop being weak. Nothing says tough like dropping a nuclear bomb or two.

Once we let President Drumpf nuke a few of the terrorist strongholds (London, Paris, Tehran, Nigeria, Palestine, New York, Germany), then people will start behaving. No longer will we have people willing to die to exert control over the freedoms and behaviours of others. No, by then we’ll all be ruled by the Trump convention mentality and will conform if we know what’s good for us.

Women will stop all this feminist nonsense and realise the fulfilment they can have as being ‘a great piece of ass’ as Trump would say. Mexicans will dutifully stay put, and happily earn their pesos by sewing Trump neckties. The Chinese will stop ‘raping America’ economically and realise America is Great Again. Trump’s right: we’ve over 7,000 nuclear weapons and we’ve not used a single one. That’s hardly making good economic sense, is it?

The source for this claim is MSNBC news personality Joe Scarborough:

“Several months ago, a foreign policy expert went to advise Donald Trump,” Scarborough said.

“And three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons — three times he asked. At one point, ‘If we have them, why can’t we use them?’”

The Trump camp dismisses this as untrue. Scarborough fair? Not to Trump supporters.

Time Magazine also disputes the claim Trump asked about using nukes. In a recent piece it suggested that he doesn’t want to use them. Here’s a quote:

“I will have a military that’s so strong and powerful, and so respected, we’re not gonna have to nuke anybody… I will have a military that’s so strong and powerful, and so respected, we’re not gonna have to nuke anybody,” he said, adding that he would be “amazingly calm under pressure.” Still, Trump told the magazine he wouldn’t get rid of the nuclear weapons because “other people have them” and are “unfortunately gaining more and more.” “It is highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely that I would ever be using them,” he added.” 

Well, if Trump says it’s ‘highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely’ that he’d ever nuke another country, that’s good enough for me. After all, he has proven time and again he’s a man of his word. If he does drop a bomb, we can not only be sure that the act will dissuade any further terrorism – we can be sure it will be the biggest, best, strongest, most respected bomb in the world.

With a Trump White House ensuring world peace by nuking some bad guys, and climate change abolished by Teresa May, I think a celebration is in order. I’ll either be in BrewDog having one or two, or in an underground bunker stockpiling water and Monsanto vegetable seeds.

Next week? If we are still here, more Panama Papers and local news.

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Mar 112016

Part Four: In The Long Term. By Mike Shepherd

(0)Consider this scenario for Aberdeen and the Northeast of Scotland:

There are no jobs to be had in the area, the existing industries are in decline and those employed in them are poorly paid. Unemployment is above the Scottish average. The population is falling at an astonishing rate of 4,500 per year as the locals seek jobs elsewhere.
Unfavourable comparisons are being made between Dundee and Aberdeen; Dundee is attracting inward investment on the back of preferential treatment from the government, whereas Aberdeen all on its own in the forgotten northeast corner is all but ignored.

No, not a prediction for the future, it is an actual economic snapshot of the Aberdeen area in the 1960s just before North Sea oil was discovered.

Once the oil companies leave, Aberdeen could return to economic circumstances that would be even worse than in the 1960s. At least back then there was some semblance to a diversified economy in the city. Aberdeen was dominated by the fishing industry with over a hundred trawlers in the harbour. It was also a popular tourist destination in the days before foreign travel became common.

Visitors were attracted to the city described then as the ‘Silver City by the Golden Sands’. There were two ship-building yards at the harbour and paper, textiles and combs were made in the city. Not much of this is now left. Aberdeen’s future could be an even bleaker shadow of its past if no action is taken soon to remedy this.

One thing hasn’t changed much since the 1960s however, Aberdeen’s shockingly poor transport links with the rest of the country. Given the city’s relatively remote location this does not bode well for an economic future. The road network in Aberdeenshire is a joke and the railway connection to the south has been shockingly neglected.

The rail link is still single track at Montrose, a well-known bottleneck, although a long overdue action to remedy this may now be about to happen.

Aberdeen can consider itself very hard done by. As pointed out in a previous Aberdeen Voice article ‘How Aberdeen was short-changed over North Sea oil’ – the onshore infrastructure to support North Sea oil was paid by local government and assisted by our rates / council taxes but not by the UK government. Between 1975 and the early 1990s the expenditure by the Grampian Regional Council was in excess of £100 million per year.

The other areas affected by North Sea oil are faring much better than we are. Revenue from the Sullom Voe and Flotta oil terminals means that Shetland now sits on an oil fund of £400 million and the equivalent in Orkney is just under £200 million.

hydrogen busA plan by Grampian Regional Council to levy rates on offshore platforms as a means of funding onshore infrastructure was blocked by the Treasury. Given that the UK tax take from North Sea oil and gas is now over £300 billion in today’s money, there is a strong moral case for the government to now help Aberdeen to establish an economic base for the future.

Our local politicians and media will need to shout very loudly that it was our local government that bankrolled the needs of the oil industry only for all the revenues to go elsewhere.

Yet, the perception is that the city has somehow squandered what should have been its golden goose; that some enormous pot of money was available to Aberdeen to do with whatever we wanted to. Here’s a recent example of this nonsense.

An opinion piece in the Dundee Courier headlined Aberdeen boost: right deal but the wrong city, referred to the recent Aberdeen City Deal, the proposed investment of £250 million in the city announced in January this year:

“I’d argue that Dundee and Perth – jointly progressing a City Deal bid at the moment – are more worthy of that investment at this moment.

“That may sound like sour grapes, but my rationale is this. As the black gold tap ran, Aberdeen had its chance to build a broad-based economy fit to withstand the rigours of the modern world. It had the opportunity to future-proof itself and create prosperity for generations to come. But, if not lost, that chance has certainly not been grasped.”

So what should Aberdeen do to diversify its economy?

I’m a petroleum geologist not an economist, so I will not profess to any special insights on the issue. Others have noted that the city could play to certain strengths; more could be done to attract tourists, particularly given the region’s scenic attractions and heritage. The area is strong in biomedicine through its academic institutions and who knows, a rump of the oil industry may linger in the city servicing the petroleum industry globally.

I will make one comment though. The most obvious successor to the oil industry in Aberdeen is the renewable energy sector. Aberdeen’s future as an energy city should be as and energy city. The city already hosts engineering companies and technical knowhow. There is an obvious crossover to be made.

This isn’t the first time that renewables has been promoted for the city and region. We have the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG) and more recently the Energetica initiative to establish the Aberdeenshire coastal strip as a corridor for the renewables industry. Neither of these has taken off big time, part of the problem being the high cost bases of the area driven up by the presence of the oil industry.

Nevertheless, the recent oil price crash has focussed attention on the need to diversify the Aberdeen economy. The politicians need to push and push until this happens with absolute determination and drive. It will take government money, but for Aberdeen, the turbo-charged motor of the UK economy for the last 40 years, it’s payback time.

Mike Shepherd is author of Oil Strike North Sea, a history of North Sea oil. Join him in an upcoming session to discuss the impact of the oil industry on our shores:
March 17th 5-6pm – Blackwell’s Book Shop, High Street, Old Aberdeen. 5-6pm. Free, but please reserve a place by phoning 01224 486102 or emailing

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Mar 032016

Part Three: The Scrapheap Challenge. By Mike Shepherd


Aberdeen Harbour. Picture: Mike Shepherd

A huge industrial undertaking is about to take place off the Scottish coast involving billions of pounds of expenditure; this is decommissioning.
As a result of an international convention for the NE Atlantic area, oil companies are obliged to remove most of the offshore infrastructure, including oil platforms and pipelines, once oil and gas production operations have ceased.

The scrap material will be brought onshore and disposed off accordingly. It will not be allowed to remain in place offshore unless there are good reasons to do so.

The scale of this operation is massive. Once the last drop of oil has been produced, it will have involved the dismantling of about 475 offshore installations, 10,000 kilometres of pipeline and 15 onshore oil and gas terminals. According to the industry body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) decommissioning will entail £55 billion of expenditure by 2050.

Let’s repeat that figure again – an industry that will spend £55 billion (and that’s probably an underestimate) is about to hit our shores big time. The coastal cities and towns of the UK and Norway will provide the bases for this undertaking. Some of it has already happened, three of the Brent field platforms are being decommissioned, although the activity has been relatively small-scale to date.

Given the currently low oil price, it’s possible that the volume of work involved could increase substantially from now on. OGUK have predicted that 79 oil and gas platforms could be abandoned by 2024; another estimate puts this figure as high as 146 out of the 300 platforms standing in the North Sea in a similar time scale.

The world of business is acutely aware of the opportunities involved and we may be on the cusp of a feeding frenzy as companies pile in to grab what is a large and guaranteed pot of cash. The big attraction for business in getting involved with decommissioning is that it is a major growth area. Not only is there an enormous amount of guaranteed work coming up; new technologies will need to be developed given the challenges involved.

Other offshore areas in the world will eventually become the focus of decommissioning and this provides the potential for any single company to become a major internationally-established corporation worth billions on the back of gaining experience in the North Sea. The prize is enormous.

Even at this early stage it’s possible to identify trends likely to transform into future newspaper headlines. You heard them here first.

aa66The Aberdeen versus Dundee rivalry over the spoils from North Sea oil has revived. Dundee has never particularly prospered from oil and gas and this is a source of discontent for the Tayside city.

Dundee is now repositioning itself to become a major centre for decommissioning. Forth Ports, owned by a private equity company, are spending £10 million on upgrading the eastern end of Dundee harbour for decommissioning and offshore wind projects.

Aberdeen Harbour Board, not wishing to lose out on a vitally important industry at a time when the oil companies will be finally leaving the city, intends to turn Nigg Bay into a deep-water harbour.

According to the details given with the Aberdeen City Deal this will enable Aberdeen to compete for decommissioning work.

The development of Nigg Bay is controversial; local residents have been less than impressed with pictorial representations of the future development, complete with cruise ships and the surrounding open green space shown rather improbably as being left intact. The business behemoth of decommissioning will be very difficult to stop however.

One other area that could fill future headlines is the scale of the government involvement. The government are committed to a part-funding of decommissioning through tax breaks although the legislation is complex and it is not clear as to how much money is involved. The Guardian reckons the percentage tax relief is between 50 and 75 per cent of the total expenditure.

OGUK have recently quoted an estimate that the taxpayer will be providing £16 billion for decommissioning work by 2050 although this figure looks on the low side. The tax breaks will prove a major future liability for the UK government (or a Scottish government should independence come).

One question begs to be asked. What happens if an oil company goes bust and it doesn’t have any money to pay for decommissioning? I would anticipate there are contingency plans for this situation, although I suspect it’s a hyper-sensitive issue in government circles. The issue dogs open-cast mining operations in the Central Belt of Scotland and in Wales where several mine operators have folded before the reinstatement of the land could happen.

The legal and practical issues involved have proved to be a nightmare.

There are also the environmental implications. The Aberdeen Voice has already been at the forefront of highlighting pollution problems caused by the dumping of material from North Sea oil operations.

It will be important to ensure that future decommissioning work is carried out in an environmentally circumspect manner and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency will have much work on its hands to monitor all of this.

Big money will come to the Scottish coastal cities and towns over the next few decades from decommissioning. Aberdeen will get a share of some of this work, although it remains to be seen whether the city can chase off the challenge from Dundee to become a potential national centre for the decommissioning industry. It’s the scrapheap challenge.

Next week – the final part of the series: The long-term future for Aberdeen.

Mike Shepherd is author of Oil Strike North Sea, a history of North Sea oil. Join him in two upcoming sessions to discuss the impact of the oil industry on our shores:

March 9th 6.30 – 8pm – Aberdeen Central Library. Free, but booking essential. Contact the library on 01224 – 652500 or email
March 17th 5-6pm – Blackwell’s Book Shop, High Street, Old Aberdeen. 5-6pm. Free, but please reserve a place by phoning 01224 486102 or emailing

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Feb 252016

1Part Two: On Life Support. By Mike Shepherd

With oil at about $33 a barrel the Aberdeen economy is suffering. The anecdotes abound: For example, the taxi driver who tells you that his takings are down by 50% and that his last fare on a business visit to the city had been the sole occupant of the hotel.

Aberdeen has become largely dependent on oil over the years. There had been other industries in the city, fishing, shipbuilding, papermaking, textiles and tourism amongst others, but they all declined or disappeared.

Here’s an anecdote that illustrates this only too well. When I attended my children’s prize-giving ceremony at Harlaw Academy in 1998, the invited speaker was the manager of the John Lewis store in the city centre.

The theme of his talk was local job prospects, particularly oil. He mentioned in passing that the store’s annual profits closely tracked the oil price, year in, year out. By 1998, the industry had come to dominate the Aberdeen economy.

The Aberdeen economy now lacks any significant diversity, something all too apparent now that the oil price has crashed. Recent discussions have focussed on expanding the local economy by encouraging the development of biopharmaceuticals and agrifood industries.

A similar weakness has been identified in Norway with its dependence on oil. The BBC recently reported that the Norwegians are seeking to diversify with potential growth in aluminium, healthcare, farming and fisheries (it was noted that the shop price of a 4.5kg salmon shops is currently worth more than a barrel of oil).

Nevertheless, Aberdeen will probably tough things out until the oil industry revives. Let’s put a caveat on that – should the current slump last not much longer than one to two years.

The key feature to emphasize is that oil is of enormous strategic importance to the national economy, both in the UK and Scotland, and more than just its massive tax-raising boost. Whereas, the country’s power generation may be satisfied by Chinese nuclear energy, even renewables, oil is needed for transport and is irreplaceable for the purpose until alternatives such as hydrogen fuel cells and electrification of the transport grid comes to the fore (the green initiative is to be applauded but it hasn’t happened big time yet).

The need to import oil can cripple a weak economy as was all too apparent in 1973 when the oil price quadrupled at a time when the UK economy was in trouble. The lessons of the 70s hopefully have not been lost on government officials. The UK economy is not exactly rosy today either, and it would be wise not to have to import all the country’s fuel at a high oil price once the upturn comes.

A significant rise in the oil price could easily happen in the medium term. Oil price crashes result in a drastic cut in oil company investment, typically on projects which have a lead time of several years. When energy demand increases, an adequate supply is not then available and the price can rocket.

there is a large and very experienced oil and gas skill pool in the city

Thus the UK government is aware of the need to support the North Sea oil industry by cutting its taxes on oil production and is likely to continue doing so in the short to medium term. In the long term, the large tax revenues will eventually return.

Another factor concentrates the UK government’s collective mind here, the vast cost of abandoning North Sea oil and gas infrastructure.

Oil companies are required by international agreement to remove most of the offshore infrastructure; mainly oil platforms and pipelines. The government will be responsible for funding part of the costs, an estimated £16 billion out of £55 million in total by 2050.

Given current government spending constraints, they will want to postpone the expenditure for as long as possible. Unlike say coal or steel, leaving the oil industry to die bites the government where it hurts.

It is vital to keep some sort of oil industry present in the Aberdeen area to form the basis for reviving the industry in the future. A vast infrastructure of platforms, pipelines and terminals are already in place. If this goes, the industry goes and is unlikely to come back. Certain key fields act as hubs with their pipeline links for transporting oil onshore. These matter to the future of exploration of new oil in the North Sea.

New oil finds are typically small and would probably not be economic without an existing infrastructure in place. The longer the infrastructure is kept in place, the higher the oil recovery will be from the North Sea. Another key feature of the Aberdeen area is that there is a large and very experienced oil and gas skill pool in the city. They should be encouraged to stay here for as long as possible or else they will drift off and find alternative careers.

A city deal was announced for Aberdeen at the end of January this year. It’s an investment package of £250 million jointly provided by the UK and Scottish governments. The money will be used to expand Aberdeen harbour by building an extension at the Bay of Nigg, to improve digital connectivity, and to fund an energy innovation centre. The intent of the centre is to work with small and medium-sized businesses to develop new technology in the oil and gas sector.

There is also a proposal on the table to build a new energy centre at Aberdeen University. The benefit of such a centre is tangible. The recovery of oil from the North Sea is top in class, many new technologies have been developed here and the rest of the industry sees the North Sea efforts as an exemplar to copy. If and when the upturn happens, the industry will require a large number of trained engineers and geoscientists to cope with projects that have become economic again.

In parallel, the Scottish government announced that it would provide funding to improve the rail links on the east coast. A major issue is the journey times north of Dundee where a single-track stretch of railway at Montrose causes a bottleneck. There have been plans to remove this problem for years although it is yet to come to fruition. The work should now start in five to ten years time. It is to be hoped that the Scottish government will finally honour this pledge.

A major issue for the future of Aberdeen is its poor transport links with the rest of the UK given its relatively remote location. Unless these are improved substantially, Aberdeen’s prospects for an economic future after oil are somewhat limited.

The North Sea oil industry is therefore on life support and the patient is critical but not necessarily croaking. Aberdeen should survive as an energy city going forward providing the downturn in the oil price doesn’t persist too long and the tax breaks come.

Next week, we start to look at the long term future beyond oil; starting with what I call the scrapheap challenge: the decommissioning of North Sea oil infrastructure.

Mike Shepherd is author of Oil Strike North Sea, a history of North Sea oil. Join him in two upcoming sessions to discuss the impact of the oil industry on our shores:

March 9th 6.30 – 8pm – Aberdeen Central Library. Free, but booking essential. Contact the library on 01224 – 652500 or email
March 17th 5-6pm – Blackwell’s Book Shop, High Street, Old Aberdeen. 5-6pm. Free, but please reserve a place by phoning 01224 486102 or emailing

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Feb 192016

Part One: The global oil price crash. By Mike Shepherd

02 The oil price has crashed and many are losing their jobs in Aberdeen. As I write, a barrel of Brent crude can be bought for $33, much cheaper than only two years ago when the oil price was over
At $33 it is difficult to make a profit out of North Sea fields, the costs are too high.

Almost 40 per cent of North Sea fields now make no money and the rest are not giving anything like the financial returns that were seen two years ago. 

Expenditure is being cut to a minimum and there is little new exploration going on. The result has been a loss of almost 10,000 jobs from the North Sea oil and gas sector.

With numbers like these, the future looks gloomy for both North Sea oil and Aberdeen. In a series of articles for Aberdeen Voice, I intend to set out the background to the current situation and to speculate as to what might be the future for North Sea oil and Aberdeen in particular.

This first article explains why the oil price has crashed. Oil is a cyclical commodity prone to booms and busts. It hadn’t always been like this. From the end of the Second World War to 1973, the oil price had been kept at a low and stable level, about $2-3 barrel (and equivalent to $20-25 at today’s prices). A small number of oil companies controlled global production and it was this that ensured both oil price stability and steady profits for the companies involved.

A Middle East war in 1973 changed everything. This was when OPEC, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, came to assert themselves. The result was an immediate oil-price hike and a greater degree of price instability as control over production became much more widely dispersed. OPEC would find it difficult to maintain discipline amongst its member countries.

Previous oil price crashes occurred in 1986 and later in 1999. The 1986 crash was brutal in Aberdeen, for example it saw unemployment hit a peak of 81% in the Bridge of Don area. The causes of the recent crashes have been similar – increased production by a small number of oil exporting countries and reluctance by OPEC, Saudi Arabia in particular, to maintain the oil price by cutting production. There has been a will by the Saudis to maintain OPEC market share despite the resulting loss in revenue.

The current oil price crash has been provoked to a greater extent by the success of oil shale production in the United States (fracking) and a reduced need to import oil from outside the country. The United States is a major consumer of the world’s oil.

I often get asked, ‘how long will the oil price stay this low?’ To which the answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s too complex an issue to call. On the one hand, the world population is increasing at a rate of 230,000 extra humans a day. Not only that, the world is becoming more middle class, less so in the west, more so in China and India, where a sizable population are aspiring to a western lifestyle involving big cars and overseas travel. This creates long-term pressure on the demand for oil, and oil is essentially a finite resource.

On the debit side, we will see more oil production from Libya and Iran, while China’s economy is stumbling with potential knock-on effects for the global economy. The Chinese themselves are now becoming acutely aware of the health problems being caused by severe pollution in their big cities. In response, they are restricting car use and taking an interest in fuel efficiencies.

Add into the mix, the recent Paris agreement on climate change – a commitment to limit a global increase in temperature to well below 2oC by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, principally from the use of hydrocarbons. Global warming is a major challenge for humans, and in combination with massive human population increase, an environmental disaster is looming if nothing is done. Yet, here’s a major flaw in the good intentions set out in Paris last December.

What do you do about transport? The world currently needs oil to move people and goods around. Over half the world’s population now live in urban areas and they depend on their transport networks for food and basic commodities: They would starve otherwise.

The alternative is to electrify the transport networks in cities and to promote hydrogen fuel cells. This will be vastly expensive at a time when world-wide public debt is nearing unsustainable levels and in any case, it will take years to implement. Meanwhile, we will have to depend on oil until a concerted political effort solves this particular problem.

So how long will the oil price stay low? It could be as much as fifteen years as was the case with the 1986 crash (which sort of melded with the 1999 crash). Nobody in Aberdeen wants to hear that, but it’s possible. I suspect the time frame could be much shorter – the long-term pressures on oil demand will not go away and the oil price could feasibly start climbing again within the next year or two.

This is a common belief in the industry. Nevertheless, the reality of the situation is that nobody really knows. And if you did, you would make a fortune.

In the next article, I will focus on the impact of low oil prices on the Aberdeen area in more detail and will speculate on the short – term implications for North Sea oil.

Mike Shepherd is author of Oil Strike North Sea, a history of North Sea oil. Join him in two upcoming sessions to discuss the impact of the oil industry on our shores:

March 9th 6.30 – 8pm – Aberdeen Central Library. Free, but booking essential. Contact the library on 01224 – 652500 or email
March 17th 5-6pm – Blackwell’s Book Shop, High Street, Old Aberdeen. 5-6pm. Free, but please reserve a place by phoning 01224 486102 or emailing

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.