Boris Johnson has delivered a huge vote of confidence in the North Sea oil and gas industry by claiming “everybody credible” understands the sector cannot be abandoned in the near term.
In an interview with The Press and Journal on a visit to Scotland yesterday, the prime minister signalled his ongoing support by saying a “proper transition” to net-zero “must involve hydrocarbons for an appreciable length of time”.
The Conservative leader’s intervention comes after the SNP and Labour both performed U-turns on their long-standing backing for continued North Sea exploration and extraction in recent months.
The huge Cambo development, west of Shetland, was paused by its backers as decision-makers came under intense pressure to respond to the climate emergency by accelerating the move away from a reliance on fossil fuels.
And calls have been growing in recent weeks for a windfall tax on the profits of industry giants to help fund measures to ease the cost of living crisis.
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, a minister in the Holyrood government, recently caused controversy by suggesting only the “hard right” continue to support new North Sea drilling.
But Mr Johnson insisted the sector has a future beyond the immediate term.
Speaking at the Rosyth manufacturing yard in Fife, he said: “It just is worth stressing at this juncture that, although we are moving beyond coal very fast and we’re moving to net-zero, a proper transition must involve hydrocarbons for an appreciable length of time.
“North Sea oil and gas will play a part in that and I think everybody credible on this issue understands that. I think it is worth stressing that.”
Katy Heidenreich, supply chain and operations director at Oil and Gas UK, warned MSPs in November a rapid withdrawal of support for the North Sea would prove counterproductive, costing Scotland the skills it needs to reach its climate targets.
However, Mr Harvie has repeatedly said new oil and gas extraction is “not compatible with a serious response on climate”.
He has insisted the Tories are “isolated” on the issue.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said recent comments by Mr Harvie are an “insult to every single worker in the North Sea sector” and should be condemned by the SNP.
UK Energy Minister Greg Hands said earlier this month the North Sea would continue to be needed for the country’s energy security.
“Flicking a switch and turning off our domestic source of gas overnight would put energy security, British jobs and industries at risk and we would be even more dependent on foreign imports,” he said in response to parliamentary questions.
“The way we produce oil and gas is cleaner than in many jurisdictions, so it would be illogical to import them at further expense to Britain and our planet.”