Wednesday, 20 April 2005

Britain’s current energy policy is “ripe for review” and should be a major issue in the General Election campaign, former Energy Minister Brian Wilson will tell a conference in Edinburgh on Monday, 25 April.

With North Sea oil and gas production now in decline and Britain set to become a net importer in the next few years, he will call for “a balanced and, as far as possible, indigenous energy future” that embraces a range of energy alternatives and conservation.

Citing the Government’s own projections that 70 percent of Britain’s electricity will come from gas and 90 percent of that gas will be imported from some of the world’s most politically sensitive areas, he will ask: “Does it make sense for Britain, whose whole industrial history has been based on our position of energy self-sufficiency, to become – so quickly and so spectacularly – a massive importer of a single energy commodity?”

He will also say: “I have no doubt that the biggest global challenge in energy terms, while viable alternatives are still being developed, is to persuade the United States to start reducing its own oil consumption as the basis of a world-wide drive towards conservation of the resource rather than its ever-increasing and ever-more profligate application.”

He will make these remarks in the opening address to a conference on the approaching peak and decline in global oil supplies (‘Peak Oil UK: Entering the Age of Oil Depletion’) at the Royal Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh, at 9:30 a.m.

He will tell the audience of about 200 business leaders, investment analysts, local government officials, energy groups and others that he takes “very seriously indeed the concept of Peak Oil.”

“It is not necessary to be alarmist or even pessimistic to accept, and then advocate action on the basis of, the basic point which underlies the Peak Oil thesis – which is that oil and gas are finite resources which need to be treated with far greater respect than has hitherto been the case.”

“We can all agree that conservation is the responsible path to follow while gross consumption is, more than ever, the irresponsible one.”

But he will also warn that “the shorter-term threat to any kind of orderly transition out of an oil-based global economy into a more environmentally-friendly one comes from the absolute refusal of the United States to adjust its behaviour either to its own reduced status as an oil importer, or to the evolving pattern of global energy consumption.”

“In spite of the most obvious warning of all – namely its own transition from supplier to net importer – it has continued to behave in the most profligate manner imaginable right up until the present day. The average American vehicle now has a worse fuel to miles ratio than in the early 1980s – which is just about as big a two-fingered gesture to environmental responsibility as it is possible to achieve.”

“The average American consumes 25 barrels of oil a year. In China, it is about 1.3 barrels per year. In India and other rapidly developing countries, it is still less than one. If there is to be a crisis in global oil supplies, it will come because these countries move inexorably towards the American levels of consumption rather than the other way round.”

“Nobody can deny China and India the right to develop, to create higher living standards for their people and to use oil in the process. Least of all can the Americans challenge that process while refusing to adjust their own lifestyles.”

Regarding British energy policy, he will say:

“I believe that the planned dependence on imported gas is ripe for review and that we should be planning for a balanced and, as far as possible, indigenous energy future – embracing as much as we can realistically do on renewables, allied to far greater concentration on clean coal technology, a substantial gas component of course, and also the retention of nuclear power which is, I appreciate, a whole debate on its own!”

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For more information:
Jim Meyer +44 (0)20 7424 0049
E-mail: [email protected]

Note to editors:

1. Brian Wilson was Energy Minister from 2001 to 2003 and has served as Labour MP for Cunninghame North (Scotland) since 1987. He is now standing down as an MP.

1. An Edinburgh-based awareness-raising group, Depletion Scotland, is organising the Peak Oil conference, with support from The Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC). In addition to Brian Wilson, there will be five other speakers. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.

2. ODAC is a UK-registered educational charity working to raise international public awareness and promote better understanding of the world’s oil-depletion problem. Further information is available at: