OIL is back – although I suspect it never went away. A dramatic rise in energy prices is here to stay for at least a decade so we had better get used to it.

The impact goes further than the bone-crushing hike in consumer gas bills we will all face come April. Higher energy costs will have a devastating impact on industry causing major shifts in the global economy. Last week saw the first clear signs of the long-predicted collapse in equity share values. 2022 is going to be an economic rollercoaster.

One additional effect of the energy boom is that profits are zooming for the big oil and gas producers. This is the major argument for a special levy on those profits, to help offset the burden on consumers. However, the mini-boom in fossil fuel rewards also has implications for Scotland and the economics of independence.

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Last week, Shell revealed bumper profits for 2021 of $19 billion – up from only $5bn the year before. Most of the increase came from shifting quantities of liquified natural gas around the world, to catch the highest market price. Shell is still big in North Sea gas production, though it has reduced its presence in the sector considerably, as it went in search of cheaper supplies to exploit.

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Shell’s boss, Ben van Beurden, has criticised the idea of a windfall tax on the company’s dosh as a bad idea because it will reduce the amount of money the company has to re-invest both in new energy supplies (to ease the gas shortage) and transition to renewables. This is self-serving nonsense – and Van Beurden knows it. Shell, like other oil monopolies, has more cash than it knows what to do with. As a result, Shell has announced it is going to give $8.5bn back to shareholders, in a share buyback programme. It gave back $3.5bn last year. That cash could (and should) be taxed in a windfall levy and put to better productive use in an independent Scotland.

There are peculiarities about the current North Sea energy industry that need to be noted. Big global producers such as Shell have sold off a lot of their mature (but far from exhausted) gas fields in the sector to smaller, independent companies like Harbour Energy, which is headquartered in Edinburgh. In fact, Harbour is now the second-biggest gas producer in the UK North Sea (after the French company Total). Third comes Spirit Energy, a German partnership with Centrica, itself the largest supplier of gas to the UK domestic market.

This picture tells us that the bulk of the companies currently producing gas in the North Sea are unlikely to spearhead fresh investment in new fields. Instead, they will exploit existing supplies and pocket the proceeds.

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So there is little possibility of fresh supplies coming from the North Sea (or Atlantic) to alleviate the gas shortage that is bumping up the cost of your household bills. Given the squeeze on world coal production, and the turn away from nuclear energy, gas has become the default energy source globally during the transition to renewables. Which means Scots, Brits and Europeans are going to pay through the nose for dwindling gas supplies from the North Sea – or face that gas being shipped abroad.

This situation raises major – existential – questions for Scotland and the independence and environmental movements. The immediate issue is whether to take steps to increase North Sea gas production temporarily – in other words, for the next decade – to minimise the price burden on ordinary folk. This move would give time for the transition to renewables to be completed, a point argued by both Alex Salmond and Jim Sillars.

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The arguments against are twofold. First, any step away from reducing fossil fuel production now will simply play into the hands of the oil monopolies who are disingenuous regarding their claims to have “gone green”. Second, any fresh North Sea gas production will be exported or sold at world prices, so the cost to UK consumers will not come down anyway.

My rational side tells me we are stuck for at least a decade with insanely high energy prices. The 22 million UK households now facing a 54% hike in their gas bills – plus the indeterminate cost and inconvenience of installing heat pumps – are likely to revolt. This could easily result in populist resistance to further measures necessary to combat climate change. That would be a political disaster.

This impasse could have been avoided. Consumer energy prices are being distorted by things apart from the gas shortage. The nuclear lobby has persuaded both Labour and Tory governments to pad consumer electricity bills to provide hidden subsidies for new atomic power stations. The transmission of Scottish renewable electricity is deliberately taxed, and the levy passed on to nuclear producers. These insane price distortions could be removed tomorrow, cutting electricity bills.

However, that would still leave a time gap between more renewable energy arriving and the current gas shortage. At the same time, global demand for energy is rising. Nor are the technologies yet available to completely decarbonise. But if we need extra gas as a bridging fuel, then how do we stop companies such as Shell making obscene profits and returning the cash to greedy shareholders rather than investing in renewables?

The obvious answer is some form of public intervention and supervision. Which is why the SNP-Green government’s abandoning of its pledge to create a public energy corporation is so misconceived. The need for a public energy company – before and after independence – has nothing to do with being doctrinaire.

We need to keep windfall energy returns from the North Sea in public hands and use that cash both to mitigate household costs and pump investment into renewables. A public energy body can do this as a partner with commercial companies, it does not need to do everything itself. But a public ownership stake is key to exerting control over the direction and content of investment. We also need to reverse the recent disastrous auction by Crown Estates Scotland of wind energy franchises in the North Sea to the big fossil fuel monopolies. As well as handing over yet more profits to these companies, the sale puts the development of renewables into the hands of the very people making a bundle out of gas.

Why would these corporations rush to invest in wind if they can bank profits from gas without lifting a proverbial finger? I know the deal is still subject to a lot of negotiations. But the First Minister will have long departed office before anyone discovers that the energy monopolies have failed to deliver.

Some in the green movement will argue (correctly) that unless the world weans itself off fossil fuels by the end of the current decade then we will miss the CO2 reductions necessary to stabilise the climate. My concern is how to advance that agenda here in Scotland, where we have more than a whisker of a chance of actually influencing events politically. That requires Scottish independence – but to do what? We need a Scottish National Energy Company to take public command of the transition process. Anything else is wishful thinking.