North Sea oil: environmentalists slam government over 'backwards' move to grant 27 new oil and gas licences

Greenpeace says it plans to fight the new oil and gas exploration licences in court
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An offshore energy trade body has welcomed the announcement of 27 new oil and gas licences as a “boost for UK energy security”.

The North Sea Transition Authority announced the 27 new licences - concentrated west of Shetland and in the central and northern North Sea - on Monday (30 October). It said the licences had been awarded in areas that had the potential to start oil and gas production more quickly.

The UK government's 33rd Oil and Gas Licensing Round was launched in October 2022, to much controversy from environmentalists and climate campaigners. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that at least a hundred new oil and gas exploration licences would be granted, in a bid to improve the UK's energy independence, but critics have said the new licences were "pouring new fuel on the fire" as the country battles to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to mitigate some of the worst impacts of climate change.

A police officer passes demonstrators, including scientists and doctors, calling for the government to stop awarding new licences for oil and gas production in the UK (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)A police officer passes demonstrators, including scientists and doctors, calling for the government to stop awarding new licences for oil and gas production in the UK (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A police officer passes demonstrators, including scientists and doctors, calling for the government to stop awarding new licences for oil and gas production in the UK (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Offshore Energies UK, the sector's leading trade body, said the new licences would help make sure there was no cliff edge in domestic production. Chief executive David Whitehouse told PA: “This announcement is a boost for UK energy security and for the 200,000 people in jobs supported by the offshore energy sector.

“We all recognise that our energy system must change, and our industry includes companies that are expanding into renewables while using their expertise to pioneer ever cleaner energy production," he continued. “The reality of the energy transition is that we need both oil and gas and renewables in an integrated system to protect the UK’s energy needs over the coming years."

Last year filling the fuel import gap cost the UK £117 billion, Mr Whitehouse added. "That’s a lot of money spent supporting the economic growth of other producing countries."

However, Greenpeace UK's climate campaigner Philip Evans said granting new oil and gas licences meant the UK would be fuelling the climate crisis, instead of helping to fix it. "UK voters want warmer homes, cheaper energy bills and a government that’s not afraid to take on the climate crisis," he said.

“Instead they’re being ignored so Rishi Sunak can pander to corporate interests, with licences for fossil fuels that’ll make no difference to bills, do nothing for energy security, and produce yet more profits for dizzyingly wealthy companies like Shell," he continued. Mr Evans said fossil fuel companied profited "while we get colder and poorer, and the UK turns into a nation that’s fuelling the climate crisis rather than helping to fix it".

Greenpeace planned to fight these licences in the courtroom, he said. The environmental action group has also launched a campaign to encourage the public to be 'climate voters' in the next general election, "because frankly we’re all sick of these backward facing policies".

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