The industrial revolution and ensuing growth of the great cities of the western world some 200 years ago was enabled by a change in primary energy supply – from wood to coal. Today it is said we are at the beginning of another period of change, from fossil fuels to sustainable energy – the move from black to green. However, this cannot be achieved all at once, it is a long journey and the first step is to change from burning highly polluting coal to cleaner natural gas.
Indeed to some extent this is already happening; coal-fired power generation in the US provided 39% of electricity production in 2014, down from 53% 1997, mainly as a result of the move to lower cost natural gas. In the European Union between 2000 and end 2013 coal consumption fell by 11%. However, the world still burns huge amounts of coal, accounting for some 30% of global fuel consumption. Even in the UK, where the industrial revolution began, on Christmas day 2014, 38% of electricity still came from burning coal.
In the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference ‘COP21’ in Paris in December 2015, green activists are already embarked on a campaign calling for disinvestment from the oil & gas industry. In April the Guardian Media Group announced it will divest from fossil fuel companies. Academia has joined the campaign with sit-ins underway in a number of universities.
Much of this rhetoric is misdirected. There is a major gap between the realities of oil & gas and the public understanding of its fundamental importance to society. To many, filling the car tank is just a tax on driving and natural gas a monthly charge on home ownership. Few realise the sheer scale and importance of the oil & gas industry, not just in the supply of fuels but also its role as a provider of a huge range of products essential to our daily lives, from plastics to pharmaceuticals, from fertilisers to house paint.
The industry should be recognised a part of the solution in providing the natural gas that can enable step one of the journey, to stop burning coal.
John Westwood, Douglas-Westwood London
+44 203 4799 505 or John.Westwood@douglaswestwood.com