Regulators in the UK have given the green light for the development of a new oilfield in the North Sea, raising concerns among climate activists. This approval allows Norwegian company Equinor to proceed with its Rosebank oil and gas project, located around 80 miles off the coast of Shetland. The majority state-owned company expects to extract approximately 300 million barrels of oil from the project over its lifespan. While the UK government supports the decision, stating that the country still relies on oil and gas, environmental organizations like Greenpeace view it as permission for fossil fuel companies to worsen the climate crisis.
This announcement follows Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent decision to weaken policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Sunak postponed the ban on petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035 and exempted around 20% of households from transitioning away from fossil fuels for home heating after 2035. The prime minister’s actions have prompted concerns from various quarters, including his own MPs. Alok Sharma, the president of the UN’s climate change conference held in the UK in 2021, expressed worry about the diminishing consensus on climate action and announced that he would not seek re-election.
The approval of new oil and gasfields remains a highly contentious issue in the UK. While the ruling Conservative party argues that such projects enhance energy security and can have a lower carbon footprint compared to importing fossil fuels, the opposition Labour party opposes new extraction licenses due to concerns over greenhouse gas emissions. This has also led to opposition from the GMB Union, one of Labour’s largest donors, which fears potential job losses. Equinor’s minority partner on the Rosebank project, Ithaca Energy, emphasizes the objective of reducing carbon dioxide emissions associated with oil and gas production and asserts that the UK currently depends on oil and gas imports. However, Green MP Caroline Lucas argues that committing to new oil and gas projects at a time when phasing out these resources is necessary constitutes a reckless approach in the face of the escalating climate emergency. The International Energy Agency has also reiterated its warning that no new oil and gasfields are needed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as existing supplies already exceed demand. Despite environmental concerns, shares in Ithaca Energy have risen by 8% following the approval of the Rosebank project.