What the growth in Scottish oil and gas exports means for Scottish independence

£8.2bn for 2011-2012.

Oil and gas industry exports in Scotland reached £8.2bn for 2011-2012, according to new figures released by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. It is the fourteenth consecutive year of the growth in the sector.  

Beyond the sales of hydrocarbons, offshore equipment, construction and drilling services now account for almost half of sales around the world. Speaking at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas, Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said:

“The Scottish Government recognises the substantial contribution that the oil and gas industry makes to our economy. We are working with the industry to continue to strengthen Scotland's position as a global leader in the sector and these figures mark further growth in this important part of our economy. There are huge opportunities open to us internationally, and we are determined to make the most of them.”

The biggest trading partner for Scotland remained North America, with sales reaching $4bn last year, an increase of 2.8 per cent. Sales to Africa came in second, growing 5.9 per cent for the year. Other growth markets are also being targeted by the industry, but according to Danny Cusick, President, Americas, Scottish Development International, North America will remain the country’s number one priority for the foreseeable future:

"While other markets such as Brazil, Africa, the Middle East and Australia are increasingly becoming international priorities for Scotland, North America remains by far our top and most important region for exports. Continued investment by oil and gas companies from the U.S. and Canada is crucial to Scotland's long-term economic growth."

Supporting nearly 200,000 jobs in Scotland, plus an estimated 24 billion barrels of oil still to be produced from the North Sea, the national government’s support for this industry will add further fuel to the Scottish independence debate. The announcement comes after first minister Alex Salmond last month tried to bolster the case for independence by predicting a mini oil boom worth £57bn in tax revenues by 2017-18, but was quickly accused of cherry picking optimistic forecasts by his opponents.

However, with this latest announcement, plus the UK government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change predicting oil prices of more than $150 a barrel by 2020, Salmond’s detractors could yet be proved wrong.

Photograph: Getty Images

Mark Brierley is a group editor at Global Trade Media

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.