Crowds marched through London against the development of new North Sea oil

Fossil Free London protest in London against the Rosebank oil field development
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Fossil Free London staged a march of hundreds of people through the capital on 30 September. It was protesting the recent regulatory approval for the development of Rosebank oil field in the North Sea. Meanwhile, new research has revealed what we could be losing as a result.

Rosebank: emissions equivalent to 28 countries

On 27 September, the North Sea Transition Authority gave drilling the go-ahead at the new Rosebank oil field, near Shetland in Scotland. The regulatory body, which is a public body sponsored by the Department for Energy, gave consent and Norwegian state-owned oil company Equinor to operate the oil field.

The company, along with private company Ithaca Energy, had reportedly satisfied the regulator’s environmental concerns. However, as the Canary previously reported, past estimates have predicted massive amounts of pollution from Rosebank:

Campaigners have previously estimated that the enormous project… will produce over 500m barrels of oil over its lifetime. This would equate to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the 28 lowest-income countries combined.

As a result, Fossil Free London led an “emergency” protest against the approval and what it means for the climate.

Marching out

On 30 September, hundreds marched from the Department of Energy Security & Net Zero at Whitehall to the Norwegian embassy on Belgrave Square. The demonstration included speeches by Green Party deputy leader Zack Polanski and Lauren MacDonald of #StopRosebank:

Read on...

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The following day, Fossil Free London said it occupied the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane. The location was picked because Equinor will gather there with other fossil fuel companies for a coming Oil & Money summit:

Joanna Warrington, spokesperson for Fossil Free London, said in a press release that:

Our government is too cosy with big oil and now we’re paying the price. Instead of investing in schools, hospitals and the green energy transition, they are pouring billions of pounds of public money into the pockets of oil giant Equinor.

Developing this enormous oilfield will do nothing but reinforce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, drive fuel poverty, and accelerate the climate crisis.

The group also stated that it also plans to “shut down” the Energy Intelligence Forum later this month. Anders Opedal, head of Equinor, is one of the event’s speakers.

What the money could be spent on

Friends of the Earth Scotland raised alarms over the government’s tax breaks for Equinor. The Energy Profits Levy, or ‘windfall tax’, is supposed to bring money into the UK through the taxation of oil and gas developments. However, a government incentive scheme means the operator could claim back 91p on every pound it invests in the project.

In a press release, Friends of the Earth Scotland said that a 91% reduction on the reported £3.1bn investment Equinor and Ithaca Energy will make into Rosebank is equal to £2.8bn. As a result, the climate action group stated:

this public money would be better invested in insulating homes and installing heat pumps which would bring down household bills and climate emissions as well as reducing the need for fossil fuels. The UK has some of the leakiest homes in Europe.

The Scottish Government estimates it would cost approximately £12,000 to install a heat pump and insulate an average home. The tax break to Equinor would more than cover the costs for the 224,000 households across Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council areas.

The group’s just transition campaigner, Rosie Hampton, added:

Fossil fuels are driving the cost of living crisis as well as the devastating extreme weather we are increasingly witnessing around the world. If politicians were genuine about a fair and fast transition away from oil and gas, investing in warmer homes would be an obvious place to start. Pouring more time and money into oil and gas is doubling down on the problem rather than grasping the solutions.

War on the climate

Rosebank’s approval is just the latest in a long line of climate-wrecking moves by the government.

In December 2022, it approved the creation of Whitehaven coal mine in Cumbria. Some of the coal from the mine will feed the UK’s steel industry, but the government expects 85% of the coal will be exported. Campaigners have estimated that the mine will produce 220m tonnes of greenhouse gases during its lifetime.

Meanwhile, a map published by Friends of the Earth at the start of September revealed there are at least 15 new onshore oil and gas projects on the road to approval. This is in addition to the availability of roughly 100 new licences for drilling in the North Sea.

Over the past few weeks, the Tories have also hitched their party to a range of populist anti-environmental measures. They included a delay in the ban on petrol and diesel cars, watering down the phase-out of domestic gas boilers, and ending requirements for landlords to meet energy efficiency targets.

The recent State of Nature 2023 report said that one in six species in the UK are at threat of extinction, with climate breakdown being one of the major reasons for this catastrophic situation. Rosebank will do nothing to help that, and will instead enable an already-rich few to profit from the death of the planet. If that isn’t worth protesting, we don’t know what is.

Featured image via Fossil Free London

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