The energy regulator has given the go-ahead for the exploration of the untapped oil and gas resources at Rosebank, north of Scotland. A “lightning rod” for disagreement, Rosebank points to the debate over the rights and wrongs of British fossil fuel projects. Environment activists warn of damage, while the government considers the development of British fossil fuel projects a necessary and acceptable stepping stone toward net-zero targets, saying that it would make Britain “more secure against tyrants like Putin”.
Situated 80 miles west of Shetland, Rosebank holds an estimated 300 million barrels of oil, which, the government believes, will strengthen the UK’s fuel security. However, experts predict that most of the oil will be exported to Europe and reimported as a refined product. Site owners Ithaca Energy and Equinor estimate pumping as much as 70k barrels of oil and 44 million cubic feet of gas per day, with production set to start in 2026.
As the government forges ahead, Labour has vowed to end all North Sea fossil fuel exploration. Pragmatists maintain that tapping into UK fossil fuel sources secures the UK’s energy sources while reducing dependency on foreign energy supplies. The government has reiterated its net-zero commitment, emphasising that the North Sea exploration is merely an interim solution.
Speaking to Sky News, Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said:
“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.
“We will continue to back the UK’s oil and gas industry to underpin our energy security, grow our economy and help us deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner energy.”
For his part, Rishi Sunak said:
“As we make the transition to renewables, we will still need oil and gas – it makes sense to use our own.”
Strong opposition to Rosebank decision
Green Party leader Caroline Lucas quickly condemned the regulator’s decision, branding it “the greatest act of environmental vandalism in my lifetime”.
Greenpeace UK climate activist Philip Evans said:
“Rishi Sunak has proven once and for all that he puts the profits of oil companies above everyday people.
“We know that relying on fossil fuels is terrible for our energy security, the cost of living, and the climate.”
Uplift executive director and climate lawyer Tessa Khan said that a legal challenge could be brought against the government:
“There are strong grounds to believe that the way this government has come to this decision is unlawful, and we will see them in court if so.”
Pointing to the Labour Party’s somewhat ambiguous stand, Green Deal New Rising’s Hannah Martin said:
“Approving the Rosebank oilfield is an act of climate vandalism by Rishi Sunak and his government … but Labour has not committed to reversing this decision, despite acknowledging that Rosebank’s approval is wrong.
“This position does not make sense, and there is still time for Keir Starmer to put himself on the right side of history and show leadership by committing to revoking Rosebank’s licence.”
The Labour leader spoke to Nick Robinson on his Political Thinking podcast on Thursday:
“What we’ve said is no new licences to be granted when we’re in power, but we won’t revoke anything, any licences that are granted before we come into power.
“I’m mindful of the fact that if there’s one thing that has killed growth in the last 13 years – and it has been killed – it’s the chopping and changing lack of strategic thinking. And therefore, as a matter of principle, we will accept, as it were, the baseline that we inherit from the government if we win that election.”
Anger over £3.75bn tax break “hidden in the small print”
Anti-poverty campaigners have condemned the £3.75bn in tax breaks Equinor and other developers are to receive for exploring Rosebank. Simon Francis, End Fuel Poverty Coalition coordinator, told reporters:
“Hidden in the small print of the deal is that this project can only go ahead thanks to a massive tax break the government is giving to international oil and gas giant Equinor.
“Households struggling with their energy bills will be shocked that the new energy secretary has chosen to hand a multi-billion pound tax break to this Norwegian firm, rather than help people in the UK suffering in fuel poverty.”