UK ministers set for collision with Holyrood over oil and gas drilling

UK ministers could be on a collision course with Holyrood over plans to approve drilling at new oil and gas sites in the North Sea.

Six fossil fuel fields are reportedly set to be given the go-ahead this year.

Campaigners said one of the proposed sites – Rosebank, off Shetland – is more than double the size of the hugely controversial Cambo proposal, also off Shetland, which was put on ice last year due to the weight of public disapproval.

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Fossil fuel use has been named as the biggest driver of human-induced climate change.

Environmental campaigners say no more oil and gas should be extracted to help avoid irreversible and catastrophic effects on the planet.

But it has been reported Chancellor Rishi Sunak has asked Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, to fast-track licences.

A Whitehall source told the Daily Telegraph that Mr Kwarteng “is pushing for more investment into the North Sea while we transition”, adding: "Kwasi is actively resisting insane calls from Labour and the eco lobby to turn off UK production. Doing so would trash energy security, kill off 200,000 jobs, and we would only end up importing more from foreign countries with dubious records.”

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said: “There will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years as we transition to cleaner, more secure forms of energy generated in this country.

“As the business secretary has said, turning off our domestic source of gas overnight would put energy security, British jobs and industries at risk, and we would be even more dependent on foreign imports”.

A BEIS source said they are unaware of any “formal request” from the Treasury to accelerate new oil and gas licensing.

The six fields – Rosebank, Jackdaw, Marigold, Brodick and Catcher and Tolmount East – are already licensed.

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The source said their development proposals are now going through the “usual robust regulatory processes with the independent Oil and Gas Authority, as well as an environmental impact assessment and a public consultation by the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning”, and no decisions had been taken.

Last year, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the proposed Cambo oil field "should not get the green light". Developers later paused work on it.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have said previously that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is not consistent with our climate obligations and we call again on the UK Government, who have the power to act in this instance, to urgently re-assess all approved oil licenses where drilling has not yet commenced against our climate commitments.”

The spokesman said ministers were “carefully studying the UK Government’s climate compatibility proposals for new fields, launched last year, in line with our own wider energy analysis work, which we are undertaking to better understand Scotland’s energy requirements as we transition to net zero”.

Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell said it was “beyond belief that the UK Government is even contemplating issuing approvals for further oil and gas extraction”.

He said: “There has never been a greater focus on the climate crisis and it is vital that government pursues an energy strategy that is compatible with meeting the UK’s climate targets.

“Boris Johnson’s Government continues to pursue a policy that is not only planet wrecking, but also increases the UK’s exposure to volatile fossil fuel markets, which are pushing home energy bills through the roof as we speak.

“I am pleased that with Greens in government here in Scotland, we’re finally seeing significant investment in renewables and action to address the long-standing issues of an over reliance in gas and poorly insulated buildings.

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“It’s vital that there is an end to issuing new oil and gas licenses, and a greater focus on delivering the green jobs in the industries of the future.”

Caroline Rance, a climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said it was “deeply hypocritical that the UK Government is even considering approving new oil fields this year, just months after they reaffirmed their commitment to ‘keeping 1.5C alive’ at COP26”.

She said: “Not only will opening new oil fields exacerbate the climate crisis, but it will do nothing to ease the pain of the millions of people facing skyrocketing bills due to gas price rises.

“To provide affordable, renewable energy for everyone the only solution is to get off fossil fuels, meaning the government must rapidly scale up investment in renewables and energy efficiency while winding down fossil fuel production.

"Every new field opened slows the energy transition by taking public money away from renewables that can create good, green jobs and ploughing it into fossil fuels instead.

“The proposed Rosebank oil field is at least twice the size of the hugely controversial Cambo proposal.

"People power stopped the Cambo field and all those who are concerned about a liveable future will continue to fiercely resist these plans for even more climate-wrecking oil and gas fields.”

Maciej Walczuk, from Extinction Rebellion (XR) Scotland, insisted the new fields “are not going improve our energy security”.

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He said: "We cannot invest in projects that compromise the lives of the most vulnerable people on the planet.”

But Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Liam Kerr said: “We are hopeful that there may be licences granted in the future to continue the support of oil and gas production in Scotland.

“If granted, the investment in North Sea oil would help the industry’s transition, and safeguard skilled Scottish jobs.

“The commitment to net zero remains, but as Scots face the pressure of increasing bills we need to be agile with our energy supplies to keep costs down and ensure we are less dependent on more environmentally-damaging foreign imports.

“Oil and gas is going to have a role in our energy mix for years to come and it’s vital to support Scotland’s role in the industry to ensure a smooth and fair transition.”



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