Rosebank oil field green light red flags UK climate commitments

The largest untouched oil and gas reserve in the North Sea is set to be tapped. After a week of successive environmental letdowns, what does this say about Westminster’s priorities? 

close-up photography of body of water

Following last Wednesday’s announcement that a number of net zero targets were set to be delayed over fears of mounting and unaffordable costs, this morning approval has been given to develop the Rosebank oil field. 

Situated in the North Sea off the coast of Shetland, the location has one of the largest concentrations of fossil fuel resources yet to be accessed in the region. The decision to press on comes despite years of campaigning to block proposals, and stands in conflict with recommendations from organisations including the UN Environmental Programme that no new oil and gas projects should be green lit if net zero and emissions goals are to be met. 

Norway’s Equinor and Britain’s Ithaca Energy are behind the development, and point to almost £8billion added to the UK economy and around 2,000 new jobs created. Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho has also made clear that even with renewable investment, Britain will still ‘need oil and gas as part of [the energy] mix on the path to net zero, so it makes sense to use our own supplies.’ 

Critics argue due to the nature of wholesale energy pricing and distribution this will do nothing to improve security, while the emission of around 200million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year from the site poses a significant threat to climate ambitions. Analysts have suggests the operation could exceed gas and oil’s allocated share of national carbon budgets by 2028, which are stipulated in legal net zero commitments. The impact on the local marine life and seabed has also been flagged.

Last month, a cross party group of 50 MPs and peers that raised concerns about the proposals, with Green Party MP describing the approval as ‘morally obscene’. The news comes just days after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak publicly announced that a number of key environmental policies would be eased, including a delay on the ban of new diesel and petrol car sales from 2030 to 2035. 

‘The government should be investing in real solutions to the challenges we face by prioritising homegrown renewables and developing a nationwide insulation programme – not pouring more gas and oil on a burning planet,’ said Danny Gross, Friends of the Earth climate campaigner. ‘The main beneficiaries of this decision will be the fossil fuel firms who have been raking in bumper profits thanks to outrageous tax-breaks and our reliance on costly gas and oil – while cash-strapped households are left to pay the price.’ 

More on Rosebank and the North Sea:

UK fish stock audit reveals ‘brink of collapse’

North Sea energy giant cancels projects over UK’s ‘unfavourable fiscal regime’

New North Sea oil gas licenses threaten marine protection areas






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