Britain Approves Major Oil and Gas Project Despite Climate Concerns
Britain has given the green light for a significant oil and gas project in the North Sea, defying warnings from scientists and the United Nations about the need to halt the development of new fossil fuel resources to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The North Sea Transition Authority has granted approval for the development of the Rosebank field, allowing Equinor and Ithaca Energy, the project’s owners, to proceed with the venture located approximately 130 kilometers northwest of the Shetland Islands. The authority, a UK regulator, is responsible for maximizing the economic benefits of the country’s North Sea energy resources while helping to reduce carbon emissions.
The decision comes at a time when the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing criticism for diluting its environmental commitments ahead of an upcoming election. Sunak recently delayed a ban on gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles and proposed relaxing water quality rules for developers after costly environmental programs proved unpopular among certain voters.
The government argues that projects like Rosebank are necessary to support domestic oil and gas production, control consumer costs, and ensure energy security as the country transitions from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
Caroline Lucas, the sole Green Party member in the House of Commons, denounced the decision as “morally obscene” given the increasing severity of the climate crisis. She argued that while Britain may continue extracting oil and gas from existing projects, opening up new fields should be avoided.
Lucas further stated that Rosebank would not enhance energy security or reduce bills since the majority of the oil extracted would be exported, with any remaining supply sold at market prices within the UK.
In July, Sunak announced plans to issue numerous new oil and gas licenses to safeguard jobs and promote greater energy independence as production declines in the aging North Sea oil fields.
Production from the North Sea fields, initially developed in the 1970s, has steadily decreased over the past 25 years. In May, the fields produced the equivalent of approximately 1.3 million barrels per day, a 75% decrease from the peak in December 1996.
Rosebank, one of the largest untapped oil deposits in UK waters, is estimated to hold 300 million barrels of recoverable oil, according to Equinor.
Equinor, headquartered in Norway and owning an 80% stake in Rosebank, revealed plans for a $3.8 billion investment in the project, supporting around 1,600 jobs during peak construction. The first phase of the project is expected to commence production between 2026 and 2027.
The government contends that Rosebank and other new projects will have significantly lower emissions compared to previous developments.
The government stated, “Continued North Sea production is important for maintaining domestic security of supply and making the UK less vulnerable to a repeat of the energy crisis that caused prices to soar after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.”
Last week, Sunak postponed the government’s proposed ban on the sale of new gasoline and diesel-fueled cars until 2035, five years later than originally scheduled.
The decision followed the Conservative Party’s utilization of voter dissatisfaction over a new emissions charge for drivers in London to win a by-election in the House of Commons. Environmental programs have since become a key issue for the party, which is currently trailing in opinion polls after 13 years in power.
The government maintains its commitment to achieving the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho defended the decision, stating, “We are investing in our world-leading renewable energy, but… we will need oil and gas as part of that mix on the path to net-zero, and so it makes sense to use our own supplies from North Sea fields such as Rosebank.”
Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets at Hargreaves Lansdown, raised concerns about the government’s commitment to its environmental targets, warning that this may prompt companies to delay investments in renewable energy.
Streeter emphasized that recent decisions have created uncertainty for companies and investors focused on cleaner energy solutions and have muddled the government’s support for the green transition.
Research by Carbon Tracker, a think tank monitoring decisions contributing to climate change, revealed that energy companies sanctioned $166 billion of investment in new oil and gas projects between January 2021 and March 2022.
Meanwhile, the United Nations’ panel on climate change has called for an end to new fossil fuel exploration and production to maintain hopes of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated in June, “Fossil fuel industry transition plans must be transformation plans that chart a company’s move to clean energy – and away from a product incompatible with human survival. Otherwise, they are just proposals to become more efficient planet-wreckers.”
More detail via PBS.org here… ( Image via PBS.org )