The U.K. continues to stand by its oil and gas commitments even following this month’s G7 climate change conference in Cornwall, international pressure to move away from fossil fuels, and the ceasing of operations by other North Sea states.
Energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan stated this week that the U.K will consider offering new offshore oil and gas licenses over the coming years. This comes after the country suspended new licenses in the North Sea in September last year due to pressure to strengthen its environmental policies.
Despite still heavily relying on oil, with an average production of 1 million bpd of offshore oil, the U.K. aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Trevelyan stated during the Global Energy Transition 2021 online conference, "We are not issuing any new licenses this year but we're not saying absolutely never." Further, "If there was a very good case, and there was a strong evidence base behind it, then we continue to say at this point that we will be willing to consider new licensing because as a government we have to make sure that we can ensure the security of supply and a stable transition."
It is expected that the government will favor innovative low-carbon oil projects as it strives to balance ongoing demand with green policy objectives.
As Britain will host the United Nations COP 26 climate talks in November there is increasing pressure on the government to establish a clear strategy on its transition towards renewable energies and to restrict any further exploration in its North Sea oil fields.
Norway-based Solstad is one of the companies benefitting from the U.K.’s North Sea oil, as, this week, an unnamed operator awarded Solstad Offshore ASA’s PSV Sea Falcon an 18-month term contract, which will commence in the third quarter of 2021. Its sister vessel Sea Forth is already working for the same operator.
However, despite positive activity for oil and gas in the region, North Sea operations are drawing more attention from environmental activists following a judgment on a serious Apache gas leak from a North Sea platform in 2014.
After a long trial, Apache Beryl has been fined $550,000 by the Aberdeen Sheriff Court for failing to take adequate measures to prevent a fire and explosion as well as lacking the risk assessment on the depressurization of gas lift wells, necessary to carry out operations safely.
Mounting pressure because of the COP 26 conference means environmentalists are now calling on the government to put a halt on the development of a new oil field, Cambo, off the coast of the Shetland Islands, which is being earmarked for approval, where around 150 million barrels of oil would be extracted.
Siccar Point Energy, of which Shell has a 30 percent stake, hopes to operate the 1,100-metre underwater project, one of Europe’s deepest fields.
The new Cambo field would provide enough oil for production through 2050, however, Scotland has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2045. Campaigners argue that the field would produce and burn ten times the oil equivalent of Scotland’s annual carbon emissions.
However, the U.K. government maintains that its stance on North Sea production is simply in response the country’s needs. "We are working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels, however, there will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas," the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy told Reuters in response to emailed questions.
As the U.K. makes no obvious attempt to curb North Sea production and license provisions despite international pressure, it will have to tread carefully in the lead up to the COP 26 climate talks if it wants to be taken seriously as a key international player in its net-zero and other environmental objectives.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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