The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) has this week granted permission for drilling at the controversial Rosebank oil and gas field located 80 miles north-west of Shetland.
The government-owned regulator gave consent for the Norwegian energy giant Equinor, and British firm Ithaca Energy, to develop the UK’s largest untapped oil field after accepting an environmental statement.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak said that the move is the "right long-term decision for the UK’s energy security", with the development expected to create around 1,600 jobs and £6.3bn of investment for UK-based businesses.
Meanwhile, an NSTA spokesperson said: "The field development plan is awarded in accordance with our published guidance and taking net-zero considerations into account throughout the project’s lifecycle.”
However, the decision has angered green groups, with analysis by Carbon Brief finding that burning Rosebank’s 300 million barrels of oil and gas would be equivalent to the annual emissions of around 90 countries and 400 million people.
It comes after 50 MPs and peers last month wrote to the then energy secretary Grant Shapps arguing that it would be "deeply irresponsible" to give the green light to the oil field, and that it "risks putting the delivery of our climate targets out of reach".
Philip Evans, climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, commented: “Rishi Sunak has proven once and for all that he puts the profits of oil companies above everyday people.
“The ugly truth is that Sunak is pandering to vested interests, demonstrating the stranglehold the fossil fuel lobby has on government decision making.”
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said that continued North Sea production will make the UK less vulnerable to a repeat of the energy crisis that caused prices to soar after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, the oil and gas Rosebank produces will be sold at world market prices, so the project is not expected to cut energy prices for UK consumers.
Furthermore, the parliamentarians that wrote to the energy secretary last month also claimed that the owners of Rosebank could receive “£3.75bn in tax breaks” if the development is approved.
Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency this week predicted that fossil fuel demand will fall 80% by 2050, and said that no new long-lead-time upstream oil and gas projects are needed.
Evans continued: “This decision is nothing but carte blanche to fossil fuel companies to ruin the climate, punish bill payers, and siphon off obscene profits.
“We already have the solutions to cut bills, increase energy security and cut emissions, but the government ignores them in favour of handouts to corporations at the expense of the rest of us.”
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