I’m not sure what your idea of struggling is – but it seems to me that the “near record” income that has been predicted for the North Sea gas sector probably does not fall within any definition of the word.

Yet, this was exactly the word used by a Tory opponent of Labour’s proposal to help ease the cost-of-living squeeze by reducing household energy bills using a windfall tax on the oil and gas industry.

UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, who also happens to be a former oil industry executive, caused a flurry of reaction when he told LBC radio: “A windfall tax on oil and gas companies that are already struggling in the North Sea is never going to cut it.”

But he was not alone in laying into the tax. There was also the Conservative MP for Banff and Buchan, David Duguid, who said the windfall tax suggestion “shows Labour are completely out of touch with Scotland and the north-east in particular” and added that “a windfall tax could damage the energy transition by shaking investor confidence, threatening the economy and livelihoods as well as our net zero objectives in the process.”

Well, I’ve got my own ideas on what struggling really means, and I imagine you would be better off asking the people who can’t afford to pay their fuel bills this year than oil industry advocates like Zahawi.

These politicians, of course, are not alone in portraying the oil industry as a snowflake, set-upon sector. What they’re not drawing attention to is that the energy crisis, which is sending our bills sky high, has brought a boom to parts of the fossil fuel industry. The rising prices that are an ever-worsening disaster in British households, has sent cash flowing into the coffers of fossil fuel companies and their shareholders.

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Who benefited? Of course, Russia’s state-owned Gazprom, the world’s largest gas supplier, unsurprisingly, was one winner. It saw its highest ever profits from July to September. Norway’s Equinor did rather well too, and Shell recently announced that it expects trading results in its integrated gas business for its fourth quarter to be “significantly higher” year on year – due to the rocketing price of gas.

But importantly, in terms of this proposed tax, it’s worth noting that 40 per cent of gas in the UK market is being provided by UK North Sea operators.

As a result, industry experts Wood Mackenzie have estimated they will receive cashflows of almost $18bn (£13.3bn) for the current financial year. Such figures were last seen in the boom years before the 2008 financial crash. Yet, we have them again now, in a time of efforts to drastically bring down greenhouse gas emissions to Net Zero, and when the world is on a trajectory which could mean that, as one study by Jean-Francois Mercure of the University of Exeter has described, half of global fossil fuel assets will be worthless by 2036.

Surely investor over-confidence is as much a problem as shaken confidence?

HeraldScotland: For use in UK, Ireland or Benelux countries only ..BBC handout photo of Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves being interviewed by host Sophie Raworth during the BBC1 current affairs programme, Sunday Morning. Picture date: Sunday January 9, 2022. PA

There’s also the matter of what seems just. While these UK operators were not themselves the cause of these energy price rises, they are making money out of a crisis that is happening in our homes. Yet here we have a windfall tax, which might balance the issue, being treated by some as an attack on the public good. Even in an alternative world, where natural gas was not contributing to the greenhouse gases that are driving us towards climate crisis, where the IPCC hadn’t issued a “Code Red” report for humanity, this would still seem like a manipulation of the truth.

But we don’t live in that alternate world. We live in one where the overwhelming scientific consensus is that the burning of fossil fuels is driving dangerous climate change and in which it has been documented that the global oil industry has fostered denialism and spread misinformation.

Should we fret for the “struggling” North Sea oil and gas industry? Given that the UK has been named by Rystad Energy as the country that offers oil and gas companies the “best profit conditions” in the world for the development of big offshore fields and we continue to subsidise, I don’t think so.

Meanwhile, the windfall tax seems almost like an inevitable solution to the current problem – of a population gripped by a cost-of-living crisis, alongside an industry whose production must necessarily be tapered down, and put to use solely in service of transition. That’s why many have been mooting for the tax some time. It’s why actually the Liberal Democrats had already proposed it even before Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves announced their version. This isn’t the approach of an “out of touch” politics, but of creating answers that may help preserve our planet for future generations whilst also helping out those that are struggling now. It’s about how we create an energy transition that is fair for all.

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