The United Kingdom has granted 24 additional licenses for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, a decision that has been criticized as highly irresponsible.
The British government has granted permission to major oil companies to extract fossil fuels from 24 new areas in the North Sea. This decision is part of their efforts to prolong the lifespan of the aging oil and gas basin.
The North Sea regulatory body announced that 17 oil companies, such as Shell and BP, were awarded licenses in the Central North Sea, Northern North Sea, and West of Shetland regions in order to contribute to the local and overall economy.
The North Sea Transition Authority has announced that the latest round of licenses, which comes after the initial offering of 27 licenses in October of last year, may potentially start extracting oil and gas by the end of this decade.
MPs and environmental activists are outraged by the decision, labeling it as “grossly irresponsible.” They have accused the government of exaggerating the economic advantages of the North Sea and sacrificing the country’s role as a leader in climate action for an unrealistic goal.
The minister responsible for energy security and achieving net zero emissions, Graham Stuart, faced criticism for the government’s support of increased oil and gas drilling in the North Sea. This decision was made despite the government’s commitment to phasing out fossil fuels at the Cop28 UN climate talks. Stuart defended the move, stating that the new drilling licenses were a positive step in reaching our net zero goals.
Stuart explained that obtaining new oil and gas licenses is crucial in avoiding the import of liquefied natural gas from other countries, which has four times the carbon emissions compared to domestically produced gas. He acknowledged that this may seem counterintuitive, but it is a simple argument to understand why it is the best course of action. Stuart emphasized that these new licenses will help us reach our goal of net zero emissions and demonstrate our commitment to addressing climate change.
The government has faced strong backlash for its declared plan to maximize oil and gas extraction from the North Sea, following warnings from top climate experts that global governments must stop fossil fuel production in order to control the increase in global warming.
Philip Evans, an activist with Greenpeace UK, stated: “The government is aware that the fossil fuel sector is a major contributor to the climate crisis, yet they are choosing to allow for increased drilling in the North Sea instead of taking action against companies like Shell.”
Some have argued that the policy, expected to generate a significant amount of revenue for the Treasury in the near future, will not effectively address the issue of energy security or reduce energy costs. This is due to the fact that the majority of the new licenses will primarily produce oil that is typically exported by the UK to European refineries.
According to Tessa Khan, who leads the organization Uplift that advocates against fossil fuels, the government’s actions are unrealistic. The newly issued licences will not have a significant impact on UK’s energy security or lower energy costs. In the last 13 years, the government has granted numerous licences, but they have only resulted in an additional 16 days’ worth of gas production. Additionally, the number of jobs supported by the oil and gas industry has decreased by more than half in the past decade.
The organization representing the industry, Offshore Energies UK, stated that the latest licensing rounds would facilitate a smooth shift for the industry, which still employs approximately 120,000 individuals.
The CEO of Offshore Energies UK, David Whitehouse, stated that out of the 280 oil and gas fields, 180 of them will no longer be producing by the end of the decade. Whitehouse believes that a regular rotation of licenses is necessary for a smooth transition that will maintain employment and benefit communities nationwide while also meeting our energy demands.
According to Khan, it is crucial for the government to have a well-structured plan for transitioning, in order to avoid neglecting workers and the public. He also emphasizes the importance of reducing energy costs.
According to Bob Ward, the director of policy and communications at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, this action is highly irresponsible and goes against the best interests of the United Kingdom. These licenses will not lower energy costs or increase our energy security, but they will worsen the UK’s global standing on climate change.
This statement could potentially damage the trust of investors in non-fossil fuel options and hinder our ability to compete in emerging sustainable industries. It also implies that the UK government may not have acted honestly when agreeing to the joint decision at the Cop28 United Nations climate change summit in Dubai to speed up the shift away from fossil fuels.