Labour leader hints at end to new North Sea oil and gas fields

Labour leader hints at end to new North Sea oil and gas
Labour leader hints at end to new North Sea oil and gas fields

Keir Starmer tells audience in Davos there should not be further investment in new oil and gas fields in the North Sea

Labour leader Keir Starmer has hinted the Party would end the awards of new oil and gas exploration licenses in the North Sea, arguing that continued investment in new projects is incompatible with delivering on the UK's net zero goals.

In comments made at the Davos Summit earlier this week, Starmer said investment in new oil and gas fields in British waters would end under a Labour government.

"What we've said about oil and gas is that there does need to be a transition," he said, in comments reported by Reuters.

"Obviously it will play its part during that transition but not new investment, not new fields up in the North Sea, because we need to go towards net zero, we need to ensure that renewable energy is where we go next."

The stance echoes Labour's recent pledge that it would reverse the government's controversial approval for a new coking coal mine in Cumbria and further underscores the Opposition's plan to put climate action at the heart of its electoral pitch to the country.

The news also comes just a week after the Scottish government published a sweeping new draft energy strategy focused on massively boosting renewables capacity and including proposals to introduce a more "robust" climate compatibility checkpoint for new fossil fuel projects "based on the presumption of no new exploration in the North Sea".

However, oil and gas industry trade body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) warned Starmer's comments would undermine investment and jeopardise UK energy security.

"We all know that the UK must transition to low carbon energies as fast as possible," said Jenny Stanning, external relations director at Offshore Energies UK. "Our industry has pledged to work with the UK's governments to reach net zero by 2050. But, in the three decades till then we will need gas and oil. About 24 million homes (85 per cent of the total) rely on gas boilers for heat and we get 42% of our electricity from gas. We also have 32 million vehicles running on petrol and diesel. So, we need gas and oil. The companies providing those fuels are the same companies that are investing in the transition.

"We have an obligation to warn all policymakers that, if you undermine those companies now, and send the sector's 200,000 skilled workers into other industries, you will damage both the nation's current energy security and our hopes  of a rapid transition to low-carbon energies."

In related news, the North Sea Transition Authority this week confirmed it had received 115 bids from 76 companies for new oil and gas licenses as part of the government's latest licensing round.

Dr Nick Richardson, NSTA head of exploration and new ventures, said: "We have seen a strong response from industry to the Round, which has exceeded application levels compared to previous rounds. We will now be working hard to analyse the applications with a view to awarding the first licences from the second quarter of 2023."

New projects will have to pass the government's Climate Compatibility Checkpoint, which is designed to ensure developments are compatible with the UK's net zero goals.

However, campaigners have slammed the test arguing it does not account for the emissions that will result from the oil and gas extracted from the North Sea and is in defiance of the International Energy Agency's warnings that new exploration is incompatible with the 1.5C warming goal contained in the Paris Agreement.

Philip Evans, Climate Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the campaign group would continue to pursue its legal action against the new licensing round.

"These the new licences will make Britain's homes and businesses more reliant on the volatile gas market, making further energy crises more likely and doing nothing to reduce bills," he said. "And then there's the fact that the world has agreed to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible to maximise our chances of getting climate change under control, and the government's failure to consider the full carbon cost of new drilling makes the entire process unlawful, which is why we are taking them to court.

"If the government is foolish enough to issue these licences, it will be a huge backwards step both economically and environmentally for the UK, and perhaps the world."

* This article was originally published here