The people who made their fortunes in the oil capital of Europe need a new plan.
For decades, Aberdeen, a port city on Scotland’s northeast coast, has served as the commercial gateway to the North Sea, where powerful companies have navigated deep and dangerous waters to extract tens of billions of barrels of crude. But the basin isn’t what it used to be, even with oil back above $80 per barrel. Production has been on the decline since the turn of the century. Downturns caused by twin price shocks — one in 2015 and one triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic — are harrowing reminders of what happens when a boom turns bust.
Then there’s the COP26 climate summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow, which kicks off Sunday. The United Nations and partner scientists have delivered a clear message: The world needs to “immediately and steeply” cut back on fossil fuel production to maintain a livable planet. Attention is focused on huge energy producers like Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States and top consumers like China and India. But the United Kingdom’s North Sea is in focus, too — in part due to its proximity to Glasgow, but also because of huge efforts to dramatically overhaul the region’s business model.
There’s a growing movement in Aberdeen for the region to lead the transition from Big Oil to Big Energy, using its deep-sea expertise to construct floating wind farms alongside offshore rigs. “I think 2015 was the wake-up call that Aberdeen actually needed to say, ‘This ain’t going to be around forever,'” said Russell Borthwick, the local chamber of commerce’s chief executive. “When the oil price comes back, you [can] go back to just cigar smoking, wine drinking — ‘life’s great in Aberdeen isn’t it’ — but one day you’re going to wake up and there’s going to be nothing left.”