Secretary of state for energy Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed the UK Government will support more than 100 licences for companies to explore for more fossil fuels in the North Sea, as well as lifting the moratorium on shale gas drilling in England.
The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which regulates the oil, gas and carbon storage industries, is now expected to undertake a new round of oil and gas licensing early next month.
The move comes despite repeated warnings from experts that increasing domestic production of oil and gas will not lower energy bills since prices are dictated by the international market.
Environmental campaigners have threatened legal action over the plans, which have been described as torpedoing energy security and “denying the reality of the climate emergency”.
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the move could lead to more than 100 new licences being granted, which he claimed could “safeguard” UK energy supplies and support more than 70,000 jobs in Scotland.
The support for new licensing comes as the UK Government seeks to increase domestic energy production in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has led to increased volatility across the sector.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “In light of [Vladimir] Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponisation of energy, strengthening our energy security is an absolute priority.”
He said new Prime Minister Liz Truss had made clear her determination for the UK to be a net energy exporter by 2040.
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “To get there we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production.”
Greenpeace accused ministers of “pandering to outdated, fringe fossil fuel interests”.
Philip Evans, an energy security campaigner with the group, said: “New fossil fuel licences are the opposite of energy security.
“We believe this licensing round is unlawful and we’ll be looking at taking legal action.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland also made its opposition clear.
Campaigner Freya Aitchison said: “In ploughing forward with this new licensing round, the UK Government is effectively denying the reality of the climate emergency.”
She said “devastating climate impacts” being seen in recent flooding in Pakistan, typhoons in Japan and this summer’s record-breaking heatwave in the UK are “being driven by burning fossil fuels”.
Ms Aitchison called on the Scottish Government to “stand up to these reckless plans to expand fossil fuels and hand out permits for oil and gas companies to explore and drill in the North Sea”.
She said: “These plans will lock us into a climate-destroying energy system for decades to come, entrenching reliance on this volatile industry in places like Aberdeen and leaving people all across Scotland exposed to rocketing energy bills.”
However, Mr Jack said the UK Government was working to ensure security of energy supply and “exploring the further potential of the North Sea is crucial to this”.
He said: “Supporting this sector has always been a vital part of our net-zero strategy, ensuring we have energy resilience while investing in renewable sources such as wind, tidal and solar power.”