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New North Sea oil and gas licences described as a “wrecking ball” to UK’s climate commitments

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to extract as much oil and gas from the North Sea as possible in a move that seems completely at odds with the UK’s climate change commitments.

While visiting a Shell gas terminal in Scotland yesterday, Mr Sunak announced over 100 new licences, including drilling at the UK’s largest untapped reserves in the Rosebank field, which hold 500m barrels of oil, insisting that the plan is compatible with net zero commitments, saying:

“We should max out the opportunities that we have here in the North Sea, because that’s good for our energy security,” said the Prime Minister.

“It’s good for jobs, particularly here in Scotland, but it’s also good for the climate because the alternative is shipping energy here from halfway around the world with three or four times the carbon emissions. So any which way you look at it, the right thing to do is to invest into back our North Sea, and that’s what we’re doing,” he added.

Earlier in the day Mr Sunak also confirmed support for the Acorn Carbon Capture Project in St Fergus, Aberdeenshire – a CO2 storage system that reuses legacy oil and gas infrastructure to transport captured industrial CO2 emissions from the Scottish Cluster, to permanent storage 1.5 miles under the North Sea.

Industry Reaction

In addition to labelling the move as potentially catastrophic for our climate, experts have also highlighted that much of the UK’s imported gas currently arrives by pipeline, not by ship, stating that the Government should be more heavily investing in renewables and low carbon solutions as a means to combat climate change and boost the economy.

Oxfam’s climate policy adviser, Lyndsay Walsh, said:

“Extracting more fossil fuels from the North Sea will send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments at a time when we should be investing in a just transition to a low-carbon economy and our own abundant renewables.”

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the REA said:

“If the Government are serious about delivering energy security while reaching net zero in a pragmatic way, they should be accelerating the cheapest forms of energy. This means low carbon projects that are unaffected by changes in the volatile fossil energy markets, the cause of both increased energy costs and security concerns.

“Instead, today, government are supporting new fossil fuel exploration while support mechanisms such as the US Inflation Reduction Act and the UK Government’s Electricity Generator Levy, a windfall tax on renewables, is seeing the UK attractiveness for low carbon investment diminish.

“Real energy security will be delivered by reinforcing our grid systems and sorting out planning delays so that low carbon generation can be built quickly.

“The development of CCUS should also be targeted at bioenergy applications, not capturing carbon that should stay in the ground. Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage delivers critical negative emissions recognised as essential for getting to net zero.”

Mike Childs, the head of policy for Friends of the Earth, said:

“Climate change is already battering the planet with unprecedented wildfires and heatwaves across the globe. Granting hundreds of new oil and gas licences will simply pour more fuel on the flames, while doing nothing for energy security as these fossil fuels will be sold on international markets and not reserved for UK use.”

Former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore, who earlier this year led the review into the Government’s net zero approach, called the announcement the “wrong decision at precisely the wrong time”, saying:

“It is on the wrong side of a future economy that will be founded on renewable and clean industries, and not fossil fuels.

“It is on the wrong side of modern voters who will vote with their feet at the next general election for parties that protect, and not threaten, our environment. And it is on the wrong side of history, that will not look favourably on the decision taken today.”

Charlotte Morton OBE, ADBA Chief Executive, said

“What a missed opportunity this is to invest in the development of green alternatives to fossil energy, considering the need to urgently address climate change and the commitments made by the UK Government to achieve Net Zero by 2050 .”

“And if the main objective of the Government is to ensure energy security, we made it clear to then PM Boris Johnson at the outset of the Ukraine war that anaerobic digestion and biogas could play a major part in replacing oil and gas imports from Russia and other countries and strengthen the UK’s energy resilience. All of that still stands.” 

Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf took to Twitter to say:

“For the PM to announce unlimited extraction of oil & gas, in the week the UN has confirmed July is set to be the hottest month in human history, shows the PM is willing to recklessly gamble the future of our planet for cheap political gain.”

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