Rishi Sunak says UK should ‘max out’ North Sea oil and gas opportunities

The Prime Minister was accused of recklessness

Rishi Sunak has said he wants to "max out the opportunities" in the North Sea as he confirmed hundreds of new licences for oil and gas extraction will be granted in the UK.

The Prime Minister argued pushing ahead with new fields would be good for Scottish jobs, the climate and energy security. His remarks suggested this could include the controversial Rosebank oil field off the coast of Shetland, which is the largest untapped field in the UK

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First Minister Humza Yousaf accused him of being “willing to recklessly gamble the future of our planet for cheap political gain”.

Rishi Sunak has backed new oil and gas fieldsRishi Sunak has backed new oil and gas fields
Rishi Sunak has backed new oil and gas fields

Mr Sunak flew to Aberdeenshire to announce UK Government support for future oil and gas licensing rounds, as well as backing for two further carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, including the Acorn project in Aberdeenshire. The Government is providing up to £20 billion of funding for early deployment of CCS.

During a visit to Shell’s St Fergus gas plant near Peterhead, the Prime Minister was specifically asked about Rosebank. He told journalists individual licensing decisions were made through a regulatory process.

But he added: "My view is we should max out the opportunities that we have here in the North Sea, because that's good for our energy security, 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 and to back our North Sea, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Mr Yousaf tweeted: “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.”

Mr Sunak criticised Labour, which has said it would not give new fields the go ahead if Sir Keir Starmer wins the next general election. The Prime Minister said: “I think that the Labour Party's policy on energy is bad for our energy security, it's bad for the British economy and in particular Scottish jobs, and it's actually bad for the environment as well.

"[It’s] bad for our energy security because it makes us more reliant on energy that comes from abroad. It’s bad for the economy and jobs – 200,000 jobs are supported by this industry, many of those here in Scotland – they would be putting people out of work.

“And, thirdly, it’s bad for the environment because if you look at the research that’s been published today – LNG (liquefied natural gas) for example, that comes here from somewhere else, typically has carbon emissions that are three, if not four times, higher than the energy that we can get from here at home. So, any which way you look at it, I don’t think that’s the right policy. What we’re doing is right for the country.”

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Regulators at the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) are running the 33rd round of offshore oil and gas licensing. They expect the first of the new licences to be awarded in the autumn, with the round expected to award more than 100 licences in total.

Mr Sunak insisted this was “consistent with our ambitions” for the UK to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, adding oil and gas would still be needed to supply about a quarter of the UK’s energy needs by then. He said: “Given that, the question you have to ask yourself is where would you like to get that energy from, and it seems to me unequivocally the right thing is to get that energy from here at home.”

The UK Government said the Acorn project would be part of a thriving new CCS industry, which could support up to 50,000 jobs by 2030. Mr Yousaf said his party had been calling for CCS to be funded for almost two decades.

Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said the funding was “important, albeit several years after it was expected”. He said: “Unlike the Tories and the SNP, Labour is serious about a jobs-first transition for the North Sea with our plan to create 50,000 jobs in clean energy across Scotland. The next Labour government will turn Britain into a clean energy superpower, with publicly owned GB Energy headquartered in Scotland.”

Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell accused Mr Sunak of showing "staggering contempt for our environment”. He said: "The world is burning around us. The last thing we need is even more climate-wrecking fossil fuels. The PM should be listening to the United Nations and the many scientists who are calling for an end to new fossil fuel exploration.

"Downing Street's approach will be catastrophic for our environment and will do absolutely nothing for our energy security. It is totally reckless. Homegrown renewable energy is by far the greenest, cleanest and most secure energy we can use.

"The majority of the oil and gas from the North Sea will be exported. In any case, North Sea production is even more emissions-intensive than the oil and gas we are already importing from Norway."

Friends of the Earth said the priority of the Prime Minister should be to insulate homes. Jamie Peters, climate co-ordinator at the group, said: “Locking the UK into decades more oil and gas extraction is reckless policy that will drive a coach and horses through the Prime Minister’s international reputation on climate change while doing nothing to improve energy security or bring down bills.

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“Delaying vital, and ultimately inevitable, climate action will cost us all in the long run – both financially and in terms of the huge human impact as climate breakdown intensifies. The Government’s own climate advisers, along with the International Energy Agency, the UN and the world’s top climate scientists, have said that we cannot afford to bring new fossil fuel projects online if we’re to secure a safe and liveable future.

“That’s why a drive to insulate homes, alongside building a world-class industry in homegrown renewable power, should be at the heart of Rishi Sunak’s energy plan if he genuinely wants our economy – and the planet – to thrive."



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