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UK Oil: Plummeting production vs media inattention

This article was inspired by the disjuncture between a UK government document which reveals the stunning decline in UK oil production, as opposed to British media inattention to this worrisome development.

The website of Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) states, “Total indigenous UK production of crude oil and NGLs in the third quarter of 2011 was 22.7 per cent lower than a year…. For the first time since quarterly records began, imports of crude oil exceeded indigenous production” (p. 20).

For any modern nation, a 22% decline in oil production would be significant over the course of a decade. A 22% drop over a mere 12 months ought to be front-page news, yet this radical decline has passed relatively unnoticed.

An article in yesterday’s Telegraph examined the acute pain at the pump as “forecourt prices reached record heights.” The article points out that these record prices are “inflated by concerns surrounding Iran and Syria,” but provides no hint of the worsening situation on the UK’s own doorstep, its Continental Shelf.

Another common theme in media reports (often quoting DECC spokesmen) is to attribute recent declines to maintenance work, slowdowns, infrastructure problems, even industry frustration with government tax grabs, all of which may be correct. Such statements are often followed by reassurances that these difficulties will soon be resolved and production will return to normal.

However, it seems certain that British citizens are descending into a new and increasingly difficult “normal” which looks like this:

Yesterday’s Guardian article comes closer to addressing the reality of the situation, referring to jokes about the North Sea as the “Dead Sea” and the fact that “the precipitous decline in the domestic oil and gas industry… not only makes Britain more reliant on foreign imports but also reduces Treasury tax take.”

It states, “North Sea crude and gas production fell 17% in 2011, one of its biggest ever annual drops, while the number of exploration well drilled was down by half on 2010.”

DECC maintains an interesting section which allows us to examine the production record of individual fields. An examination of the once-mighty Forties, Brent, etc reveals what “terminal decline” actually looks like.

In many respects, Britain seems poised to lead the western world in grappling with peak oil. The UK oil and gas bonanza is nearing its end, and Britons must come to grips with what they once had and how rapidly it slipped away. In this respect, they provide a warning to nations such as Canada, which is about to repeat the same mistake (ie. a rapid international sell-off of its remaining oil and gas).

As for the future, Britain has its unique All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPGOPO), ITPOES, UKERC, Global Witness, Transition Towns, the Soil Association and a multitude of other progressive organizations which are well aware of how profoundly serious the emerging situation is. These groups are committed to finding effective ways to manage the unprecedented difficulties that lie ahead. Other countries do not have Parliamentary groups, nor a proactive industry organization, nor a thorough analysis such at that conducted by UKERC.

The rest of the world may find that there is much that can be learned from the British experience.

Editorial Notes: Rick Munroe is an energy security analyst with a national organization of Canadian family farmers. He is a frequent contributor to Energy Bulletin.

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