‘Morally obscene’: Rosebank oil field gets green light from regulators

Pictured: Platform operations in the Grane oil field in the North Sea. Image C: Equinor

Rosebank is the largest undeveloped oil field in the North Sea. Located west of Shetland, it is more than twice the size of the controversial Cambo oil field.

The Government’s decision on the Rosebank permit was meant to come before Parliament went on summer recess, but was delayed in July after the regulator asked for more detailed information on the field’s environmental impact.

The project has today been approved. The Government claims the decision will support and oil and gas industry which adds £17bn annually to the economy and supports around 200,000 jobs.

According to Equinor’s estimates, the Rosebank project represents a direct investment of approximately £8.1 billion, of which £6.3 billion is likely to be invested in UK-based businesses, with the developer also estimating that at its peak the field producing 69,000 barrels of oil and 44 million cubic feet of gas per day.

The recent Climate Change Committee (CCC) report notes that while the UK will still require a certain amount of oil and gas until it achieves net-zero,  it will not need to develop new North Sea oil and gas fields without stronger climate stress checks. Separate research from CarbonBrief found that burning all the North Sea oil and gas reserves in the Rosebank field would be equivalent to the annual emissions of almost 90 countries.

The Government reiterates that the all new oil and gas licensing is “subject to extensive scrutiny by the regulators” including environmental assessment processes and that the Rosebank application had “taken net-zero considerations into account”.

Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said: “We are investing on our world-leading renewable energy but, as the independent Climate Change Committee recognise, we will need oil and gas as part of that mix on the path to net zero and so it makes sense to use our own supplies from North Sea fields such as Rosebank.

“The jobs and billions of pounds this is worth to our economy will enable us to have greater energy independence, making us more secure against tyrants like Putin. We will continue to back the UK’s oil and gas industry to underpin our energy security, grow our economy and help us deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner energy.”

The approval from regulators arrives just one day after the International Energy Agency (IEA) updated its pathway estimates to net-zero by 2050 for the energy sector.

The initial edition stated that there must be no expansion of global oil and gas extraction capacity beyond that already agreed upon before the end of 2021. Today’s update reiterates this and also states that there should be no new coal mines or mine extensions, nor any new unabated coal-fired power plants.

In 2030, the IEA concludes, global fossil fuel demand would be 25% lower than today.

Who opposed Rosebank?

Many green groups, corporates and even some MPs have all opposed the Rosebank project. MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on climate urged Sunak “in the strongest possible terms” to block the development of the Rosebank oil and gas field. Norwegian firm Equinor is spearheading efforts to develop the field.

Back in August, scientists told Sunak in their hundreds, to reconsider his plans for a major oil and gas licencing round to be held from this Autumn.

Additionally, more than 60 organisations have jointly issued a cautionary message to Equinor’s primary banking partners, advising against financing the Rosebank oil field on climate grounds.

Campaigning organisations including Action Aid, Friends of the Earthand Greenpeace sent a letter to 20 of Equinor’s financiers including Barclays, JP Morgan, and BNP Paribas. The letter, convened by BankTrack and Uplift, highlights that supporting the Rosebank oil field would violate these banks’ pledge to restrict global warming to 1.5C.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion called the approval “morally obscene”, warning that the project will do little to lower energy bills for the UK.

“Amidst a summer of raging wildfires and the hottest July on record, this Government approves the biggest undeveloped oil and gas field in the North Sea – set to produce more than the combined CO2 emissions of all 28 low-income countries in the world,” Lucas said.

“Energy security and cheaper bills aren’t delivered by allowing highly-subsidised, foreign-owned fossil fuel giants to extract more oil and gas from these islands and sell it overseas to the highest bidder.  They come from grasping the opportunities of unblocking and upscaling abundant and affordable renewables, and properly insulating the nation – ensuring clean air and water, thriving nature and wildlife, and high-quality skilled and stable jobs in the process.

“If we’re going to secure this liveable future, we must stop all new fossil fuel projects like Rosebank once and for all.”

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner, Danny Gross, said:  “This is yet another colossal failure of leadership from a government that seems determined to ignore the scientific warnings on the climate crisis.

“Giving the green light to Rosebank will send UK emissions soaring while failing to boost energy security or reduce bills. 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.

“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.”

Frank Gordon, Director of Policy at the REA (Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology) said: “We are disheartened to note the news today regarding approval of new oil licenses at Rosebank. The UK must wean itself off oil and gas to break our reliance on expensive, insecure, and polluting energy which is subject to volatile international fossil fuel markets.

“True energy security will be delivered by an urgent transition to home grown, inexhaustible clean energy, accompanied alongside a large-scale energy efficiency programme. Government should be focused on rebuilding investor confidence and ensuring the deployment of renewables and clean technologies as a long-term route out of high bills for consumers.”

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Comments (2)

  1. David Dundas says:

    An essential part of reducing the emissions of fossil carbon is to save energy. Importing fossil oil and gas requires energy to drive the ships, so it is far better to produce it locally as this Rosebank oil and gas field will do; also its production will be much better controlled in the UK to avoid pollution than oil and gas fields in third world countries. Refineries will source their oil as locally as possible as this saves money and our refineries can be easily adjusted to receive the Rosebank oil. In the end we need oil and gas to power our industries to build fossil free power such as wind, solar, nuclear, tidal and hydro, so as these green energy sources increase their production less fossil oil and gas can be consumed. Reaching zero fossil emissions by 2050 needs a long term plan to build up the sources of green energy using fossil energy in the short term.

  2. Keiron says:

    Morally obscene? Says someone typing this article on a computer made from petroleum, using a wifi router made from petroleum whilst wearing underpants with petroleum elastic (lycra) in them?

    Our modern tech world relies on billions of petroleum based products to function. You can’t build an EV without petroleum, or a wind turbine or a heat pump. Most insulation in homes is petroleum based as is all the electrical wiring insulation in your car, home, office, supermarket etc.

    Net Zero Carbon can only happen with Carbon and the best source of that Carbon is OIL.

    Yes we MUST stop burning it, and urgently, as it is far too valuable a raw material to waste it by setting fire to it. But that does not mean we will stop producing it for decades to come. So think about it next time you turn on your LED lights (circuit board made from petroleum) by flicking the light switch (also made from petroleum) so you can chose your favourite underpants or stretch jeans.

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