Scotland’s former energy minister has warned his own party that Scotland will continue to need a “successful, working, thriving” oil and gas industry if it is to develop new carbon capture technologies.
The SNP veteran Fergus Ewing spoke out in Holyrood on the future of the Acorn project in Peterhead, which aims to remove harmful greenhouse gases and store them underground.
In October, the UK Government decided not to award any funding to the scheme.
It sparked numerous calls for a U-turn, and claims it will hamper Scotland’s efforts to meet climate change targets.
Despite also urging Westminster to reverse this decision, Mr Ewing also says stopping domestic oil and gas production will result in more emissions.
He argued it would make Scotland reliant on oil and gas from the Middle East instead.
Earlier, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government will no longer support the unlimited recovery of oil and gas.
‘Most important debate’ of our time
Speaking in parliament on Thursday, Mr Ewing said: “This debate is one of the most important of our time.
“The Acorn project, perhaps improved, must go ahead if we are to achieve our net zero targets.”
He added: “Acorn is now three times a loser under UK Government decisions, but there is a fourth opportunity and we must grasp that.
“If we proceed at the current rate we can only capture 10% of the CO2 we require to meet net zero.
“Now, I was not the brightest boy in the class, but I never went into an exam saying I was determined to get 10%, that is not ambition.”
Thriving oil sector
Mr Ewing continued: “We need a number of things – we need a successful, working, thriving oil and gas sector, because without such a sector we cannot deliver carbon capture because they have the expertise and no one else does.
“We should recognise North Sea operators have set world class standards to cut emissions by 50% by 2030.
“As Sir Ian Wood said, if we stop domestic production then we import more gas from Qatar, and that will increase, not reduce, emissions.”
He added: “We must go ahead with Acorn and if the prime minister doesn’t listen to this debate today and says ‘no’ for a fourth time, he is committing act of betrayal worthy of Cassius and Brutus in the assassination of Julius Caesar.
“The prime minister is fond of quoting Latin, so the last words on the tombstone of carbon capture must not be ‘et tu, Boris’.”
Conservative MSPs in the north-east backed calls to support oil and gas.
North East MSP Douglas Lumsden said: “The carbon cluster remains an important project for the UK Government and I very much hope it will go ahead as quickly as possible.
“The SNP position on carbon capture is, quite frankly, ridiculous.”
He added: “Their position seems to assume that you only have either carbon capture or oil and gas. That is a false choice.
“Carbon capture works hand in glove with the oil and gas industry, in fact the oil and gas industry is leading the way in new technologies associated with carbon capture.
“The worry for Scotland is not the UK Government who have time and again supported the North East – it is the reckless approach adopted by the SNP who have turned their backs on the North East by their willingness to cast aside 100,000 oil and gas workers’ jobs, meaning there will be no need for carbon capture.”
The debate was led by Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin, who says the Acorn project could support up to 15,000 jobs every year until the year 2050, and would safeguard industrial jobs in the North East.
The UK Government named Acorn a “reserve cluster” after two schemes in the north of England were selected instead – Ms Martin says this needs to be reversed immediately for the sake of thousands of jobs in the area, as it is unlikely it will be brought forward until the next round of funding in 2030.