Fossil fuels have helped to develop nations and economies and have, up until now, been a vital part of the energy mix. Coal, oil and gas have helped countries develop and allowed industries to grow and manufacture products. Fossil fuel use has both its positives and negatives when it is extracted and this can be seen in the North Sea off the East Coast of the UK.
The North Sea
The North Sea has reserves of Oil and natural gas, and a long history of exploitation. The first North Sea oil came ashore in June 1975 and is thought to have peaked in 1999, with more than 40 billion barrels extracted so far (BBC). Countries have drilling rights within the North Sea around their territories and in the North Sea this means that the UK, Norway, Denmark and Germany can all drill for North Sea oil. Norway and the UK have the largest reserves, and Norway has used this drilling to pay for a number of social programmes.
The reserves of oil and gas are starting to dwindle (more than 50% has been extracted) and the oil and gas is tougher to extract. However, the remaining reserves are still substantial - between 15 billion and 24 billion barrels of oil equivalent - meaning possibly another 30 to 40 years of production. And there could be new discoveries such as the fields west of Shetland. To date, it is estimated that the UK government has benefitted to the tune of £300billion pounds since 1975!
The Gannet Oil Field
The Gannet Oil and Gas Field was discovered in 1973 and by 1993 production of this oil field had started. The Oil field is run by Shell, who pump oil via Fulmar A on to Teesside. Gas is exported to Gannet diverter then piped via Fulmer gas pipeline to St Fergus, north of Aberdeen.
• The UK still produces around 60% of its natural gas meaning it is less reliant on foreign gas. This improves energy security.
• Having UK oil production (67% of needs) means that the UK government do not have to negotiate higher oil prices with foreign countries for the bulk of their oil.
• Exploiting offshore oil creates lots of jobs as people are needed in the offshore process. This has really boosted places like Aberdeen as people have moved there to take part in the oil industry. This has massively boosted the local economy which has lower unemployment rates and higher wages than most parts of the UK.
• There has been a positive multiplier effect for many parts of the Eastern coast of the UK as industries develop platforms, materials and parts for the rigs out in the sea. There are also specialised transport firms for getting workers to the rigs and there are oil refineries on land that provide massive job opportunities for people
• The UK government has benefitted directly through tax revenues.
1. Huge amounts of investment are needed to develop the technology required to drill in the North Sea. This is risky, as the returns on this investment are reducing as the oil and gas run out.
2. There have been major accidents in the North Sea oil field that have resulted in death. The Piper Alpha disaster of 1988 which killed 167 workers and caused insured losses of £1.7billion pounds. There have been helicopter accidents too, as helicopters are used to transport workers to and from the rigs. One went down in 2016 with the loss of 13 people.
3. The prices of Oil fluctuates wildly which can cause major issues for companies and workers. Oil prices fell in 2014 and in the following three years the number of employed workers fell from around 450,000 people to just over 300,000 people. (source)
4. The supplies of gas and oil are non-renewable and will run out, this leaves the UK vulnerable and energy insecure in the long run.
5. Oil leaks do happen and this causes huge environmental damage, the Gannet Alpha platform, 113 miles (180km) from Aberdeen experienced a leak in 2011. It leaked more than 200 tonnes of oil - was about 300ft (91m) below the surface. The oil company Shell were fined £22,500 as a result.
6. Oil and gas are fossil fuels which cause damage to the environment. Opponents argue that the UK should be investing in more renewable energies.
North Sea oil rig - Richard Child/Flickr
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