Jacob Rees-Mogg subs green critics with new oil and gas licenses

Alok Sharma: North sea gas extraction won't solve energy crisis

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The Business Secretary has defied climate scientists and campaigners by sticking to his commitment to issue around 100 licenses for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea, which he claims will boost both the economy and the UK’s energy security amid a crisis. Despite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global body for climate science, and International Energy Agency (IEA) calling for polluting fossil fuels to remain in the ground if the world is to have a chance at averting a climate catastrophe, Jacob Rees-Mogg appears to be looking to the immediate future as Russia’s war in Ukraine has laid bare Britain’s vulnerability to volatile international gas markets. 

On Friday, the UK North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) announced the launch of the 33rd oil and gas licensing round in the North Sea offering 898 blocks and part-blocks in the North Sea.

In a bid to slash Britain’s reliance on expensive foreign imports of gas, which have soared in price due to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and his supply cus to Europe, Mr Rees-Mogg is aiming for 100 licenses to be given out.

He claims the new exploration will boost energy security and support skilled jobs. The Business Secretary said in a statement: “Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine means it is now more important than ever that we make the most of sovereign energy resources. 

Mr Rees-Mogg added: “Ensuring our energy independence means exploiting the full potential of our North Sea assets to boost domestic production – recognising that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than importing from abroad. 

“That is why we welcome the launch of the NSTA’s new licensing round, which will help support highly skilled jobs across the UK’s energy industry, boosting both our energy security and our economy.”

The Business Secretary has previously said, as revealed in a leaked video, that Britain “must get every cubic inch of gas out of the North Sea”, assuring that the Government will be “handing out lots of money” to extract more of the UK’s own gas. 

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “And that is why I have said we have to get every cubic inch of gas out of the North Sea, because actually it’s better for our economy and it’s greener. And this will be a challenge for us to get out to the country because one side will say we are not being austere enough, and the other will say we are not being free-market enough.”

Pushing back against his critics, the Business Secretary claimed: “It is unquestionably more environmentally friendly to use our own gas which doesn’t have to be liquefied, doesn’t have to be transported thousands of miles, than it is to pull in gas from overseas, and if we want therefore to be both prosperous and green we need to use our own resources.”

Now, it is expected that the licensing process will be fast-tracked in sections of the North Sea that are near existing infrastructure, meaning they can potentially be developed at rapid pace, according to the NSTA. 

While the Conservative Government has argued that the move could the UK tackle the energy crisis, critics say that the reserves may not be large enough to impact prices consumers have to fork out for energy in Britain, whose bills have been surging in accordance with hiked prices of international gas.

Philip Evans, energy transition campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “This government’s energy policy benefits fossil fuel companies and no one else. 

“Supporting the oil and gas giants profiteering from the energy and climate crises ignores the speedy solutions that are best for the economy, for lowering bills and for the climate.

“New oil and gas licences won’t lower energy bills for struggling families this winter or any winter soon nor provide energy security in the medium term.”

But Andy Samuel, the outgoing chief executive of the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), has previously said that NSTA would do “anything we can do to bolster domestic production” following the Government’s request.

However, he warned that the new licenses would do little to make make a dent in the UK’s overall reliance on imports, which experts predict will continue to grow over the next three decades.

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Mr Samuel told the Financial Times: “I think it’s unlikely, given it’s a mature basin and the geology is well-known, that we’re suddenly going to have a situation where we are significantly growing production again.”

This is despite Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), which represents the oil and gas industry, claiming there could be as much as 15 billion barrels of oil remaining in the North Sea. 

It typically takes between five to 10 years from initial exploration until oil and gas is produced from a field. This put into question the likelihood of the UK its reach net zero target by 2050, which requires the phasing out of fossil fuels, which are likely to be replaced with nuclear and renewable energy. 

But OEUK has also claimed that the new fields will not be as polluting as earlier sites, believing this to be an environmental “bonus”. The NSTA also argues that between 2018 and 2021, production emissions have been cut by more than a third. 

Dr Samuel said: “Security of supply and net zero should not be in conflict. The industry has committed to halving upstream emissions by 2030 and investing heavily in electrification, carbon storage and hydrogen. Signs are promising so far – our first carbon storage round closed last month with 26 applications from 19 companies across all the areas we offered.”

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