Greenpeace activists scale Cairn Arctic oil platform
There is, perhaps, no better sign that oil companies expect prices to stay high than new drilling in places previously seen as too difficult, too expensive, or too downright dangerous.
I’ve written before here about the increased willingness of companies to go into the incredibly destructive tar sands in Canada. Similarly, I’ve written about how companies like Tullow Oil are increasingly willing to wade into the middle of resource fuelled conflicts. Another clear example of the risks companies are willing to take is the way Scottish company Cairn Energy are willing to take massive gambles with deep water drilling in the Arctic, only a year after the disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Cairn boss Bill Gammell (former Scotland rugby international) has described his adventures in pristine Arctic waters as “Like going to the casino.
So, how delightful to see Greenpeace activists again shutting down this rig. And pleasing too to see them tweeting from the rig to keep us all updated! (photo courtesy of Greenpeace).
If we are to protect the wonderful Arctic wilderness, then we must end this gamble. If we are to protect ourselves from runaway climate change, then we must end this gamble. But there is something more else going on here too. Such expensive, and risky projects would not go ahead if oil companies believed that prices were going to come back down.
And I think this tells us 2 things: 1) the age of cheap oil is over. Governments and policy makers clearly haven’t adequately responded to this.
2) The fact that this is the response to rising prices shows the inability of the market to deal with climate change at a time of rising oil prices (or, probably, ever). Because, however much these price hikes encourages investment in renewables, there will always be some dick like Bill Gammell who sees the potential mega-bucks in getting the last few drops of oil out of the ground.
Capitalism is about maximum resource exploitation. In the UK, what we have seen in recent years is not renewables replacing fossil fuels, but renewables being added on top of fossil fuels. This is rather like claiming that we have gone on a diet because we now eat a salad with our burger and chips. We can’t solve our dependence on oil simply by investing in renewables. We need to address the problem that our economic system is based on the maximum exploitation of limited material resources, (while, at the same time, quashing human potential).
Put it another way: our economy is based on the endless increase in exploitation of natural resources – no matter how risky. As long as there is oil to be extracted, there will be someone willing to go and get it. And when they do, it is not just their company’s fortunes they are gambling with. It is all of our futures.