UK government evades scrutiny over Rosebank as climate advisors say no to new oil and gas

Oil rig in the North Sea.
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In a debate in Westminster Hall, the UK government evaded scrutiny over its impending approval of the controversial Rosebank oil and gas field.

City A.M. has reported that government regulators are planning to sign off the new North Sea oil and gas development within the next two weeks. The secretary of state for energy security and net zero Grant Shapps will then have the final decision on whether to approve the project.

Norwegian fossil fuel giant Equinor is planning to develop the enormous oil and gas field in the North Sea. Ithaca Energy, which owns a majority of the contentious Cambo oil field, holds a minority stake in the project.

Campaigners have highlighted that the large Rosebank oil field will produce nearly 500m barrels of oil and generate more carbon emissions over its lifetime than the annual CO2 output of the 28 lowest-income countries combined.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas called for the debate on the environmental impact of the new fossil fuel development, which she described as an “act of climate vandalism.”

However, Grant Shapps failed to attend. Instead, the minister for energy security and net zero Graham Stuart represented the government for the proceedings.

No Rosebank and no new North Sea oil and gas

The debate came on the same day the UK’s independent advisor on the climate crisis published a new report.

Read on...

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The Committee on Climate Change’s annual publication to Parliament called out the government’s failure to make meaningful progress towards reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Notably, it argued that while the UK will continue to require some oil and gas into the future:

this does not in itself justify the development of new North Sea fields.

Despite this firm message, Stuart continued to parrot the very same justification. Moreover, he made the argument that UK domestic oil and gas supply would have a lower climate cost than imports.

However, the government’s own offshore oil and gas regulator has found that the UK’s “carbon intensity” – the amount of CO2 emitted during production – was higher than the global average in 2022. It ranked at 42 out of 71 fossil fuel-producing countries. This means that UK North Sea production generated higher CO2 emissions than over half of global oil and gas extracting nations.

Significantly, a 2022 analysis identified that UK North Sea oil and gas creates nearly three times the emissions of Norwegian fossil fuel production. Since the UK sources the majority of its oil and gas imports from Norway, this challenges the ministers’ claims that domestic production will have a lower climate impact.

In addition, the CCC also sent a letter to the UK government in February 2022 on its plans to permit more fossil fuel projects. It stated that:

extra gas and oil extracted would support a larger global market overall.

While it acknowledged the uncertainty of accurate projections, it noted that:

Some academics have attempted to estimate this effect and suggested that 20-60% of the additional production would lead to additional consumption (rather than reduced production elsewhere)

UK oil and gas cleaner for the climate?

In other words, new oil and gas projects in the UK would not necessarily reduce oil supply elsewhere. Instead, it could add to global supply. This would mean that more oil and gas would be extracted and burned. This would emit polluting greenhouse gases into the environment.

What’s more, the #StopCambo campaign group has pointed out that 80% of the oil that companies produce in the UK is exported. The group therefore suggests that the majority of the oil Equinor extract from Rosebank would likely be exported for refining overseas, rather than for direct domestic consumption.

Moreover, the government has no control over where the oil and gas will go. As explained by CarbonBrief:

Once a licence is awarded, North Sea oil and gas belongs to the licence holder.

Essentially, Equinor will sell the oil and gas on the international market. Executive director and founder of anti-fossil fuel research and campaign group Uplift Tessa Khan also made the point that the Norwegian multinational will simply sell the oil and gas from Rosebank to the highest bidder.

In addition, Lucas also raised the point that Equinor has sought to justify the new climate-wrecking oil field with a pledge to electrify the offshore rig and plans to utilise renewable energy to power its operations.

The Guardian recently highlighted that Equinor has indicated its intention to use energy generated by the 103-turbine Viking windfarm on the Shetland Islands.

The article detailed new research from Uplift. Uplift analysts found that alongside two other oil fields exploring energy from the windfarm, the Rosebank rig would monopolise renewable energy that could power more than 450,000 UK homes.

Billions more barrels of oil

As the Canary has previously reported, the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in March set out in clear terms the need to cease oil and gas expansionism. Specifically, wealthy nations like the UK have a particular responsibility to stop approving new fossil fuel projects.

However, minister Graham Stuart also attended a fossil fuel industry forum on Tuesday 27 June. The forum emphasised that the UK government has no plans to stop licensing new oil and gas developments. The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), a private company wholly owned by the UK’s secretary of state for energy security and net zero, hosted the event.

During the meeting, the NSTA told the forum that it is working with the fossil fuel industry to:

progress more then 21 projects capable of producing 1.5 billion barrels of oil and gas

Notably, these are existing projects. It also stated that it expected the government to award further projects from the latest oil and gas licensing round that companies applied for last year.

With the decision on Rosebank imminent, the UK government demonstrated in today’s debate how little it cares about addressing the climate crisis. No surprises there, then.

Feature image via Gary Bembridge/Wikimedia, resized and cropped to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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  • Show Comments
    1. As many climate scientists are telling us, it’s no good expecting governments in wealthy countries like the UK to stop developing new fossil fuel sources if we continue using the same (and increasing) amounts of energy. Europe and the USA depend on a constant supply of energy in massive quantities, which is why renewables have generally been added to existing fossil sources rather than replacing them. A recent report from China shows that government doing this, too. We live in a capitalist economy which demands exponential economic growth to keep catastrophic recessions at bay. Degrowth socialism has a vastly different vision for the future: one of sufficiency for all, excess for none.

      Climate activists who merely demand that the British government stop new fossil source development without addressing current rates of energy use and capitalist economic growth are wasting their time.

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