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City comment: Campaigners will celebrate Shell abandoning Cambo — but it’s not black and white

·2 min read
Campaigners from Greenpeace outside Downing Street, London, during a protest in October against the Cambo oil field off the west coast of Shetland (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
Campaigners from Greenpeace outside Downing Street, London, during a protest in October against the Cambo oil field off the west coast of Shetland (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

Shell has pulled out of the controversial North Seaoil project Cambo. Campaigners are opening the champagne - but is it really so good?

Cambo, a site 75 miles off the coast of the Shetland Islands, was first discovered in 2002 and Shell has been working on the site since 2018. The planned facility there would have pumped out oil and gas for 25 years.

Predictably, the development became a flashpoint around COP26. Climate campaigners, scientists, Kier Starmer, and Nicola Sturgeon all gave it a kicking. No wonder Shell now sees it as politically toxic.

Opponents will celebrate. Emissions from the oil produced in the first phase alone would be roughly equal to that of 18 coal-fired power stations in a year, campaigners claim.

But the implications of Shell’s exit aren’t black and white.

Shell only had a 30% interest in Cambo. The main backer is private company Siccar. It will likely try and find a more willing partner and the whole thing could still go ahead but with much less transparency than if a public business was involved.

If Cambo does end up in the rubbish bin, it’s not necessarily of clear benefit to the environment either. The UK still needs oil and gas. Dwindling domestic supply will mean importing it from overseas. Tracking the green credentials along the way will be harder.

It will also leave Britain at the whims of the international energy market. We’ve seen this year how painful that can be.

To wean ourselves off fossil fuels the government needs to supercharge the development of clean energy projects like wind, nuclear and hydrogen, much as it sped through the development of Covid vaccines.

Until then, having the Cambos of the world fall over is just like knocking one leg off a three legged stool.

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