North Sea oil: government 'pouring fuel on the fire' at the expense of Britons and the planet - critics say

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Green politicians and activists say any North Sea oil will be sold back to the UK at market prices, doing nothing to alleviate costs for Brits

Rishi Sunak has been accused of stoking division and falling back on tired - and incorrect - old claims about the benefits of drilling for fossil fuels in Britain's backyard.

On Monday (31 July), the Prime Minister confirmed hundreds of new oil and gas exploration licences will be granted in the UK - along with announcing two new carbon capture projects - in an effort to "boost British energy independence".

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Sunak maintained that the goal was to reach net zero emissions by 2050, but the said that even when the UK had achieved that, "a quarter of our energy needs will come from oil and gas". Getting gas from closer to home rather than bringing it in from overseas would be more environmentally friendly, he claimed.

MPs also said it would reduce the power players like Putin had over the UK's energy security while creating local jobs, while Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said it would help with "safeguarding energy bills for British families and providing a homegrown fuel for our economy".

But both Green Party politicians and climate activists alike have hit back at the announcement. Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer said it would fuel further climate destruction, while doing nothing to help tackle the cost of living crisis.

Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer is among those levelling criticism at Sunak over his North Sea oil and gas announcement (Image: NationalWorld/Getty/PA Wire)Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer is among those levelling criticism at Sunak over his North Sea oil and gas announcement (Image: NationalWorld/Getty/PA Wire)
Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer is among those levelling criticism at Sunak over his North Sea oil and gas announcement (Image: NationalWorld/Getty/PA Wire) | NationalWorld/Getty/PA Wire

“Today’s announcement from the Prime Minister appears to be nothing more than a cynical attempt to stoke division at the expense of both the climate and people across the country who are already struggling with rising living costs," she said.

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“To say we need to burn more fossil fuels from the North Sea in order to meet net zero by 2050 is blatant greenwash," Ms Denyer continued. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency and the United Nations have all made clear there can be no new fossil fuel projects if there is to be any chance of keeping global temperature rises under 1.5 degrees."

More North Sea oil and gas would do nothing to help reduce people's bills in Britain, because it would all have to be sold back to the UK at the international market price, she said.

“The only way to effectively and sustainably reduce people’s bills, tackle the climate crisis and create millions of jobs for the future is to invest in insulating people’s homes, invest in a rapid rollout of electric heat pumps, invest in cheap and accessible public transport, and massively ramp up renewable energy."

Greenpeace UK's climate campaigner Philip Evans echoed her sentiment. “Relying on fossil fuels is terrible for our energy security, the cost of living, and the climate. Our sky-high bills and recent extreme weather have demonstrated that.

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He continued: "Rishi Sunak knows that any oil and gas from the North Sea will just be sold on the international market, making oil companies even richer at the expense of the rest of us. How will this help our bills exactly?"

Greenpeace and Uplift are in the High Court in a legal battle over the government's decision to greenlight a new oil and gas licensing round (Photo: Marie Jacquemin/Greenpeace)Greenpeace and Uplift are in the High Court in a legal battle over the government's decision to greenlight a new oil and gas licensing round (Photo: Marie Jacquemin/Greenpeace)
Greenpeace and Uplift are in the High Court in a legal battle over the government's decision to greenlight a new oil and gas licensing round (Photo: Marie Jacquemin/Greenpeace) | Marie Jacquemin/Greenpeace

“If Sunak were serious about boosting our energy security while keeping energy bills down, he’d remove the absurd barriers holding back cheap, homegrown renewables and launch a nationwide insulation programme to tackle energy waste in our homes.”

Greenpeace is in the middle of taking the government to court over what it describes as a "reckless" decision to greenlight the new licencing round for companies wanting to search for oil and gas in the North Sea - on the basis that ministers failed to properly assess the impact of the new licensing round, including the emissions created by actually burning any fossil fuels extracted under the new licences.

Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said that Sunak’s energy security drive should focus on energy efficiency and the UK’s home-grown renewable resources, rather than "championing more costly and dirty fossil fuels".

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“Talking up carbon capture and storage is an obvious attempt to put a green gloss on the Prime Minister’s announcement," he continued. "Even if it ever worked, which is unlikely in the near term, [carbon capture] won’t capture all the climate pollution caused by burning fossil fuels or address the significant emissions that are created when gas and oil is extracted."

He warned that the UK government's international credibility was on the line, with Sunak promising other world leaders the UK would cut carbon more than two-thirds by 2030. "The Prime Minister should stop playing politics with young people’s futures and build the safe, clean economy we urgently need."

Meanwhile, political think tank IPPR - the Institute for Public Policy Research - has also slammed Sunak's announcement. Associate director Luke Murphy said: “with these announcements the government is pouring fuel on the fire while the world burns."

The government was abandoning any attempt to win the "global green race" by proposing to "max out" the North Sea, he said - and was therefore missing out on the economic opportunity of the century.

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“This policy will make the UK more dependant on volatile gas prices set by global markets and will do nothing to lower bills," he added. “The quickest way to lower bills, realise energy independence and create jobs is to rollout clean renewable energy, which is also overwhelmingly popular with the public."

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