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Energy / New oil and gas licensing features in UK Government energy strategy

The government also wants to see more offshore wind development

The Clair Ridge platform west of Shetland. Photo: BP

THE UK Government is planning a licensing round for new North Sea oil and gas projects later this year under a new energy security strategy.

The government said it recognised the “importance of these fuels” in the energy transition and added that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint that importing from abroad.

But environmental campaigners have said that the expansion of oil and gas production is “unbelievably reckless” due to the climate impact of fossil fuels.

And it comes after leading scientists said the UK Government was moving too slowly on the climate emergency, with claims of “minimal to zero alignment between the UK’s net zero strategy and policies and crucial legislation that affect long-run infrastructure and investment”.

The government also plans greater support for offshore wind, such as through making it quicker for developments to gain approval.

Two large offshore wind developments are currently proposed for the seas around Shetland, while a third site to the east of the isles is part of the ScotWind leasing auction.

The government has set out a new ambition of up to 50GW of offshore wind generation by 2030, and it would like to see up to 10 per cent of this coming from floating offshore wind in deeper seas.

A 10GW offshore development proposed by Aker to the north of Shetland, which could link to a potential hydrogen refinery in the isles, would be a floating wind farm.

Another floating offshore farm has been proposed by Cerulean Winds to the West of Shetland and the Central North Sea.

The government’s plan aims to “boost Britain’s energy security following rising global energy prices and volatility in international markets”.

Under the plans 95 per cent of Britain’s electricity could be “low carbon” by 2030, supporting thousands of new jobs.

There is also an aim to increase nuclear, onshore wind, hydrogen and solar production.

The government will aim to double its ambition to up to 10GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, with “at least half coming from green hydrogen and utilising excess offshore wind power to bring down costs”.

Hydrogen production is a key feature of the Orion project, which aims to “transform Shetland into the home of secure and affordable clean energy”.

Shetland Islands Council’s future energy manager Douglas Irvine, who is a key part of the Orion team, said he was unable to comment due to the pre-election period.

Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth expressed concern about the new oil and gas licensing.

Campaigner Caroline Rance said: “It is unbelievably reckless for the UK Government to put its foot down on the accelerator and expand production of the oil and gas that is speeding us towards further climate devastation.

“By doubling down on oil and gas they are keeping us locked in an unaffordable and destructive energy system that is only delivering billions in profits for oil companies whilst millions of people are forced to choose between heating and eating.”

The government’s plan has also been described as a “missed opportunity” by critics.

Labour’s shadow climate change and net-zero secretary Ed Miliband said it will “do nothing for the millions of families now facing an energy bills crisis”.

There is also concern that measures such as insulating homes does not feature in proposed policy.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “We’re setting out bold plans to scale up and accelerate affordable, clean and secure energy made in Britain, for Britain – from new nuclear to offshore wind – in the decade ahead.

“This will reduce our dependence on power sources exposed to volatile international prices we cannot control, so we can enjoy greater energy self-sufficiency with cheaper bills.”