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UK to issue ‘hundreds’ of new oil, gas licences in North Sea

The UK government said Monday it would issue “hundreds” of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea to secure energy reserves.

Environmental groups say the plan is short-sighted and 'recycles old myths'
Environmental groups say the plan is short-sighted and 'recycles old myths' - Copyright ${} ${image.metadata.node.creator}
Environmental groups say the plan is short-sighted and 'recycles old myths' - Copyright ${} ${image.metadata.node.creator}

The UK government said Monday it would issue “hundreds” of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea to secure energy reserves while still aiming for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The announcement angered environmental groups and comes amid an internal debate within the ruling Conservative party on green policies.

The main opposition Labour party has said it will not issue any new North Sea drilling licences if it regains power in a general election due next year.

“Investment in the North Sea will continue to unlock new projects, protect jobs, reduce emissions and boost UK energy independence,” Downing Street said in a statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year saw a global surge in energy prices as Western nations imposed sanctions against Moscow, targeting in particular its massive oil and gas exports.

On a visit to Scotland, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the licensing decision was “entirely consistent with transitioning to net zero”.

He said that even if Britain achieves net zero by mid-century, around a quarter of its energy needs will still come from oil and gas.

“What is important then is that we get that oil and gas in the best possible way. And that means getting it from here at home better for our energy security, not reliant on foreign dictators, better for jobs… but also better for the climate,” Sunak added.

A study released Monday by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said the carbon footprint from domestic UK gas production was one-fourth the footprint from imported liquified natural gas.

– ‘Betrayal of British people’ –

But the licensing announcement prompted a backlash from environmental groups with Greenpeace calling it a “deliberate attempt to polarise the climate debate in the UK and score cheap political points”.

Hugo Tagholm, director of Oceana UK, an ocean advocacy organisation, said the decision was a “betrayal of the British people” showing “no regard for a future for our children and generations to come”.

“July was the hottest month ever because of burning fossil fuels,” Just Stop Oil, which wants the UK government to end all new oil and gas exploration, said.

“Sunak is worse than a war criminal. He knows new oil and gas will impose unimaginable suffering and destroy the lives and livelihoods of billions of people,” the group added.

Also on Monday, the government confirmed plans to build two more carbon-capture facilities along the North Sea coast, at Acorn in northeast Scotland and Viking near Humber, England, alongside two already under construction.

It said the four clusters could support up to 50,000 jobs by 2030.

Energy giant Shell, which is involved in one of the carbon capture projects, hailed it as a “central part of plans to decarbonise North Sea operations”.

The technology, however, has been criticised by some climate experts, who say it risks distracting from efforts to phase out hydrocarbons.

– ‘Green gloss’ –

Greenpeace said carbon capturing is “often used for greenwashing by oil and gas companies so they can carry on polluting”.

“Talking up carbon capture and storage is an obvious attempt to put a green gloss on the prime minister’s announcement,” Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said.

Environmental policies have been a hot topic in the UK, especially since Labour’s surprise defeat by the ruling Conservative party in a west London by-election.

Their defeat, by less than 500 votes, has been blamed on voter unease at Labour mayor Sadiq Khan expanding a scheme taxing the use of the most polluting vehicles, and appears to have emboldened Tory net zero opponents.

In a Telegraph interview on Sunday, Sunak insisted he was on the side of motorists and said he had ordered a review of so-called low traffic neighbourhoods, contentious local authority-led measures to limit vehicle use in designated areas by blocking roads.

Climate campaigners have accused the British leader of lacking conviction on climate policies and playing politics with the issue, with a general election looming amid a cost-of-living crisis.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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