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Energy / More oil licences to be granted – but announcement draws concern from campaigners

The Clair Ridge platform west of Shetland. Photo: BP

AN ANNOUNCEMENT that the UK Government will grant hundreds of new oil and gas licences has been met with scepticism by environmental campaigners.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak confirmed on Monday while visiting Aberdeenshire that new licences should be awarded in the autumn.

The government has also confirmed that the Acorn project in the North East of Scotland has been chosen as a carbon capture and storage cluster.

Sunak said: “We have all witnessed how Putin has manipulated and weaponised energy – disrupting supply and stalling growth in countries around the world.

“Now more than ever, it’s vital that we bolster our energy security and capitalise on that independence to deliver more affordable, clean energy to British homes and businesses.”

The proposed Rosebank development to the west of Shetland already has licences in place, but it is awaiting regulator approval.

Campaigners – and the Prospect union – have met the government announcement with concern.

Local Green councillor Alex Armitage said Suank is “setting our country on the wrong path”.

“More fossil fuel licences might seem appealing now, but in reality this is a dead end for our economy,” he added.

Armitage said Scotland has the “right ingredients” to proposer from a new energy economy, including Shetland.

“This is no time to revert to 20th Century thinking, but sadly that’s exactly what we’re seeing from the UK Government,” the councillor said.

“We need political leaders with the guts to make the decisions that will protect our children and future generations”.

Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaign Mary Church said: “Burning oil and gas is driving extreme weather and killing people on every continent yet Rishi Sunak is gleefully encouraging the arsonists to go and put more fuel on the fire.

“By ignoring the huge harm caused by fossil fuel company greed and doing bidding of the industry, the UK Government is blatantly in denial about climate breakdown.”

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Tessa Khan, who is a director of the Uplift group, accused the government of “smoke and mirrors” and said: “The only way to deliver an affordable supply of energy, and lower bills, is to move the UK away from expensive oil and gas, by helping people insulate homes and unblocking onshore renewable energy, which is so much cheaper than gas.”

Meanwhile the Prospect union said the announcements fail to recognise the scale of the response to the climate crisis that is needed.

“A proper plan would put delivering good green jobs at the absolute heart of a long-term plan to deliver on Net Zero and energy security,” senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns said.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “In the lead up to the general election, we’re going to see a lot of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ promises. The devil will be in the detail. We need to see long-term plans and well-paid roles with proper terms and conditions.

“We won’t tolerate the devastation of whole communities, with ‘leap of faith’ promises from Westminster all over again and we will not let workers in oil and gas become the miners of tomorrow.”

The government said it is continuing to back the North Sea oil and gas industry as part of a drive to make Britain more “energy independent”.

Oil and gas licensing rounds will continue to be subject to a climate compatibility test.

The government added that through adopting a more flexible application process, licences could also be offered near to currently licensed areas – “unlocking vital reserves which can be brought online faster due to existing infrastructure and previous relevant assessments”.

Sunak said: “Even when we’ve reached net zero in 2050, a quarter of our energy needs will come from oil and gas.

“But there are those who would rather that it come from hostile states than from the supplies we have here at home.

“We’re choosing to power up Britain from Britain and invest in crucial industries such as carbon capture and storage, rather than depend on more carbon intensive gas imports from overseas – which will support thousands of skilled jobs, unlock further opportunities for green technologies and grow the economy.”

When it comes to carbon capture and storage, Sullom Voe Terminal operator EnQuest has already been offered two licences for offshore sites to the northeast of Shetland.

Successful carbon storage licence applications ‘kickstart a new industry for Shetland’

Carbon capture and storage involves taking CO2 emissions from industrial processes, transporting it via a ship or pipeline and storing it underground offshore, and it is seen as a component of the drive to net zero.

Under EnQuest’s plans liquid CO2 would be imported from isolated emitter clusters in the UK, Europe and further afield, before being sent via pipeline to depleted oil fields.

The Acorn project is located at St Fergus in Aberdeenshire, and it previously missed out on government support.

The Viking project in Humber has also been selected by the government as a carbon capture and storage cluster.

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