The UK’s leading oil and gas industry trade body has said any potential ban on new exploration in the North Sea would put the country’s net zero future at risk.
Over the weekend, a national newspaper reported that UK ministers are considering such a move as part of preparations for the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November.
Mike Tholen, sustainability director at Oil and Gas UK, said: “Any curtailment of activity by licensing constraints risks impeding the UK’s ability to deliver a net-zero future, damaging our domestic supply chain and increasing energy imports whilst exporting the jobs and skills.
“Our industry is leading the way on green technologies including the switch to hydrogen and long-term storage of CO2. Achieving this through UK companies will require significant investment and we continue to work constructively with government to show this industry has the essential expertise and commitment to ensure delivery”.
On Sunday, the Telegraph reported that a ban on new North Sea exploration, a similar move made by Denmark in December, was “on the table”, with unnamed sources citing a decision as being “close”.
Energy Voice understands that a ban is unlikely to be implemented by the government.
The newspaper reported that Green MP Caroline Lucas last week asked Business Secretary and COP26 president Alok Sharma whether “we might not be going ahead to get more fossil fuel explorations”.
It comes as the government is currently undertaking a review of policy on future licensing rules for oil and gas exploration.
Mr Tholen highlighted that an exploration ban could lead to greater imports of fuel, consequently with higher emissions, while the UK industry has set targets to dramatically cut its own emissions over the next decade.
“Leave no-one behind”
In a response to Energy Voice, the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), pointed to the independent Committee on Climate Change having recognised the role of oil and gas for the UK reaching its legal target of net zero by 2050, including it in all scenarios.
BEIS also highlighted that the sector supports 270,000 jobs UK-wide.
A spokesperson said the licensing review “seeks to ensure it remains compatible” with the net zero target, adding that a North Sea Transition Deal will be signed in coming months “to create jobs, retain skills and deliver new business and trade opportunities”.
The Scottish Government said it has not been included in the review to date, adding that it is committed to ensuring a just transition that “leaves no-one behind”.
A spokesperson added that the sector is an “important player” in ensuring security of energy supply for Scotland, and that the sector’s expertise will be used for development of key low-carbon technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
They added: “We have not been involved in that review to date, but would expect to be involved meaningfully given the review’s significance to future energy supplies, and in order to ensure a just transition for the more than 100,000 Scots who work in Scotland’s oil and gas sector, as both Scotland and the UK move towards net-zero.”