Rishi Sunak hails the approval of a major oil and gas project

Rishi Sunak hails the approval of a major oil and gas project as he says the invasion of Ukraine proves the UK has to drill

  • His support for the scheme will draw a clear battle line with Labour 

Rishi Sunak hailed the approval of a major oil and gas drilling project yesterday as he stepped up his opposition to counter-productive green pledges.

The Prime Minister said the decision was the best way to ensure Britain’s energy security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent prices soaring.

Mr Sunak has already moved to delay or dilute costly green pledges such as banning new petrol and diesel cars and gas boilers.

His support for the scheme will draw a clear battle line with Labour, which has said it opposes new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

Mr Sunak tweeted: ‘As we make the transition to renewables, we will still need oil and gas – it makes sense to use our own supplies such as Rosebank. This is the right long-term decision for the UK’s energy security.’

Rishi Sunak hailed the approval of a major oil and gas drilling project today as he stepped up his opposition to counter-productive green pledges

Announcing the move yesterday, Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho said that even by 2050, fossil fuels will still be producing a quarter of Britain’s power and accused critics of ‘relying on foreign regimes’.

Regulators approved the Rosebank development off the northern coast of Scotland despite condemnation from Labour, the SNP and campaigners. Ministers hailed the move as a step towards energy independence.

A BBC emergency 

A BBC presenter was not following corporation guidelines in referring to climate change as ‘the climate emergency’ yesterday.

Martha Kearney used the phrase as she discussed the Rosebank decision with Ithaca Energy boss Gilad Myerson on Radio 4.

It sparked speculation the BBC may have changed its house style to use the term but sources said this was not the case. It is understood there are no strict rules on the phrase.

Ms Coutinho said: ‘The choice we face is this: Do we shut down our own oil and gas leaving us reliant on foreign regimes? Do we lose 200,000 jobs across the UK? Do we import fuel with much higher carbon footprints instead? And lose billions in tax revenue?

‘Keir Starmer’s approach will lead to higher emissions and fewer British jobs. Labour would leave us worse off and threaten our ability to keep the lights on.’

The site – 80 miles west of Shetland – contains more than 300million barrels of oil – twice the size of the controversial Cambo oil field.

The North Sea Transition Authority announced it had given its consent for the largest untapped oil reserve in UK waters to be developed.

Approval was given to owners Equinor and Ithaca Energy, following reassurances over environmental concerns, and production is expected to start in late 2026.

The site could produce 69,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak – about 8 per cent of the United Kingdom’s daily output – and about 44million cubic feet of gas per day in its first ten years.

Supporters say it will reduce reliance on imports and provide jobs in the UK. Gilad Myerson, executive chairman of Ithaca Energy, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it will create more than 1,600 jobs and provide ‘a significant amount of tax revenues for the Treasury’. The Government said in July that it would issue hundreds of new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

Labour has said that, while it opposed the Rosebank development, it would not revoke the licence if it won the next general election. The party has pledged to end new North Sea oil and gas exploration. Labour’s business and trade spokesman Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News the priority should be on transitioning away from fossil fuels.

Campaigners take part in a Stop Rosebank emergency protest outside the UK Government building in Edinburgh on Wednesday

He added: ‘Real energy security will only come from moving to nuclear, to renewables, to technologies that will insulate us from those pressures.’

‘But we have said we understand this is a difficult position for investors. We will not revoke any licences but we don’t think this is good value for money.’

The project also faces criticism due to its impact on climate change and Britain meeting its net zero commitments. Last month 50 MPs and peers from all major parties raised concerns Rosebank could produce 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

They wrote to then energy secretary Grant Shapps urging him to block the oil field.

Scotland First Minister Humza Yousaf said developing Rosebank was ‘the wrong decision’.

Last night Conservative former environment minister Lord Goldsmith told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: ‘It just trashes the UK’s reputation as a reliable, grown-up member of the global community; it’s done us immeasurable harm.

‘If this is the direction that the party is determined to take, there’s no way I can vote for a party that positions itself where the Conservative Party is currently positioning itself on climate and nature.’

Lord Goldsmith resigned as a minister after accusing Mr Sunak of being ‘uninterested’ in the environment.

Q&A by Colin Fernandez 

What is Rosebank?

Rosebank is an oil and gas field about 80 miles north-west of the Shetland Isles and holds an estimated 300 million barrels of oil. It is owned by Norwegian energy company Equinor and British firm Ithaca Energy. 

 What will it produce?

At its peak, it will produce 69,000 barrels of oil and 44 million cubic feet of gas daily – together the equivalent of 77,000 barrels of oil. This means oil is 89.6 per cent of the field’s output and gas the remainder. That is equivalent to 8 per cent of the UK’s projected production, but only enough gas in a year for two cities the size of Aberdeen.

 Will it lower gas bills? 

Equinor said oil will be transported by tankers to refineries and to its customer ‘supporting Europe’s energy security’. This would be in line with current market trends, as 80 per cent of North Sea oil is exported to continental Europe. Campaigners say there is scant demand for the type of medium-light oil that will be produced by Rosebank. But the gas will be fed into the UK national grid for domestic use. The oil and gas is unlikely to greatly move the market price. 

Why is it controversial?

Opponents believe that uninterrupted availability of affordable energy could and should come from renewable sources, while the Government and the oil and gas industry say abandoning North Sea reserves would bring greater dependence on foreign oil producers. The Government says the project will protect consumers from volatile international price hikes. 

Will it provide jobs?

Ithaca and Equinor say Rosebank will support around 1,600 jobs at its peak during construction and around 450 over the long term. The project is estimated to create £8.1billion of direct investment, £6.3billion of which will be in UK businesses. 

Does it fit with net zero?

Planned electrification of North Sea rigs mean they will increasingly draw their power from renewable energy sources, therefore fitting in with how the Government counts its emissions reductions to net zero. The emissions from the oil and gas once burnt are not included in net zero calculations.  

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