As the Sunak Government continues its race for increased fossil fuels exploitation in the North Sea, Extinction Rebellion (XR) is one of a number of key groups responding to this anti-Climate policy shift at local and national levels. To give an example of how that works in a locality, here is a short case study of an Oxford XR weekend 30 September to 1 October.
Extinction Rebellion Oxford demonstrated against excessive profits from oil and gas exploitation by Shell on Saturday 30 September. They held placards and banners outside the Shell station in Headington, Oxford, and ran a stall at Headington crossroads to help inform the public and ask them to tell Shell to reduce gas and oil production and stop the Jackdaw gas field. Dozens of people signed a letter to local Labour MP, Anneliese Dodds, calling for Labour to cancel the proposed Rosebank oil and gas field if in Government. The interesting aspects of this action were that so many people did sign a comparatively long letter to their MP on a complex topic (50-plus) and some of the comments about Labour’s position.
Labour seems to want to be seen facing two ways on future fossil fuel exploitation: opposing it officially but declining to stop permissions for new licenses for such exploitation when issued. Since Shell is committed to the Jackdaw gas field and Equinor to Rosebank oil and gas development, this opens up a new era of North Sea fossil fuel expansion at a time when the UN has made it repeatedly clear no new fossil fuel installations should be implemented. It was interesting to hear from a number of Labour voters and members at Headington crossroads that they did not support Labour’s approach, as outlined above. Previous signing up sessions on various Climate and ecological emergency topics at the same location had not produced such unprompted responses.
Participant in the 30 September action, Hazel Dawe, comments:
“Why did I spend hours on a Saturday challenging the Shell Corporation? Because the International Energy Agency has warned that no new coal, oil or gas projects can be developed if we are to limit global warming to 1.5°C in order to avoid climate collapse. But Shell is opening a NEW gas field in the North Sea. The Jackdaw Gas Field is expected to start production during this decade. Back in 1991, Shell made a documentary called ‘Climate of Concern’ which described the need to invest in solar and wind power. In it, Shell talks about responsibility and “doing the right thing”. Since then, 2018-2020 saw 90% of the company’s investment going into fossil fuels. A mere 3-5% was put into renewables despite the cost, and the environmental and Climate advantages. In 2022, Shell increased its annual profits to $19.3bn, mostly by gaining from increased gas prices that caused a cost-of-living crisis for ordinary people, and undermined both public and private sector finances. This is against any reasonable idea of sensible Climate and environment policies. We should all take to heart this statement by UN Secretary General António Guterres, in 2022: “It is moral and economic madness to fund new fossil fuel projects.””
Since its ‘Climate of Concern’ documentary, Shell has engaged in massive expansion of fossil fuel investment. 2018-2020 saw 90% of the company’s investment going into fossil fuels. A mere 3-5% was put into renewables. Shell has been accused of a profiteering bonanza after it made record first-quarter profits of more than $9.6bn (£7.6bn) in 2023 and showered shareholders with more than $6bn in dividends. In 2022, Shell increased its annual profits to $19.3bn, mostly benefitting from an increase in gas prices that has caused a cost of-living crisis for ordinary people. Unbelievably, in 2022 the UK government gave Shell a £90 million tax rebate. 40% of Shell profits are believed to be hidden in tax havens.
“Shell [..is] a company that has been aware of the climate crisis for over thirty years, spends $22 million annually on anti-climate lobbying, was sued for the murder of nine Nigerian activists, continues to decimate habitats, does not pay sufficient tax and engages in rampant greenwashing initiatives.”Tori Tsui, 2023
“[Shell has a] disregard for climate change risks. [I] can no longer be a part of it. The fossil fuel industry is the past. If you can find a way out, please walk away while there’s still time.”Caroline Dennett, Shell’s senior safety consultant on announcing her resignation, 2023
Equinor and Rosebank
The Government decision to permit exploitation of oil and gas in the Rosebank field in the North Sea has caused exceptional opposition. It has the potential to be the largest such site in the North Sea in the future. Faith groups, environmental organisations, Greta Thunberg, the End Fuel Poverty coalition, and a variety of Conservative Party representatives are amongst those who have condemned this action. It is also clear that Government claims about benefits especially to UK energy security are wrong as the company involved, Equinor, is Norwegian and has freedom to export oil and gas wherever it wishes. Campaign group 350.org has launched a petition to the Norwegian Government, which has controlling shares in Equinor, to cancel development of Rosebank.
Extinction Rebellion Oxford organised a rapid response protest on Sunday 1 October about the Rosebank decision. About 60 people attended, supported by XR Oxford singers and the XR Oxford Samba Band. Public response was good, with a lot of leaflets being issued on the main pedestrianised street in central Oxford
Jo Gill, who attended the Rosebank action, noted:
“We cannot reduce fossil fuel emissions which are damaging our Climate without stopping new oil and gas installations from going into operation. The government should stop spending billions of pounds subsidising the big oil companies and instead spend the money on investment in renewables, subsidies for home insulation and public transport and other measure which will tackle both the climate crisis and the cost of living crisis. As a country, we are nowhere near meeting our targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and every new oil or gas field developed takes us further away from those targets. Rosebank cannot be allowed to operate and we will campaign to ensure this.”
As with actions by other campaigning groups, XR Oxford’s efforts in its locality are part of a constant flow of actions around the country concerning oil, gas and coal corporations. Lax attitudes in Government over more than 30 years have failed to ensure long-term deep cuts in emissions, notably from the largest emitting sector: transport. Whether a change of Government will alter this situation remains to be seen. If not, then campaigns to address the climate and ecological emergencies may well.
Ed: West England Bylines does not support any particular organisation or company. We do however give space to those who promote progressive and sustainable goals.