deep sea mining oil drill fossil fuels ocean

‘Reassess’ Cambo oil field licence, says Scotland’s Sturgeon

Image credit: Dreamstime

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has voiced caution over plans to exploit a North Atlantic oilfield near Shetland, in her first public intervention on the divisive issue.

The Oil and Gas Authority and Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning are weighing up the proposed oil field, which is owned by Shell and private equity firm Siccar Point Energy. Licensing for exploration at the oil field was initially approved in 2001.

If the Cambo project goes ahead, a further 150-170 million barrels of oil may be extracted from the site, which is expected to be in operation from 2022 until 2050. The Cabinet is now under pressure to intervene, although Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, and other ministers have insisted that the matter is entirely in the hands of regulators. While the government recently introduced a climate compatibility test for new oil and gas developments, the test will not be applied to fields such as Cambo which have already been licensed.

The government has been called on to halt the project by the leader of the opposition, a coalition of 77 organisations and 80,000 signatories of a petition delivered to the prime minister last week. Since then, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Chanel has published a landmark report which states that immediate and drastic decarbonisation action around the world is at this point necessary to avoid catastrophic and permanent climate change. The publication of the report piled pressure on the Scottish government to speak out against the project.

Sturgeon has now joined the voices cautioning against the project. In a letter to the Prime Minister, the First Minister has asked Johnson to “reassess” the licence for the proposed project. She also called for a summit of leaders of the devolved nations ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit, which is due to be held in Glasgow in November, and for the UK government to “provide clear leadership” ahead of the event.

“We are both well aware of the importance of oil and gas over many decades - not least in terms of jobs - to the Scottish and UK economies,” Sturgeon wrote. “We also understand that reducing reliance on domestic production of oil and gas, which we must do, without increasing imports - which would potentially increase emissions - depends on the development of alternatives.

“However, the answer to these challenges - given the urgency of the climate emergency - cannot be business as usual. Instead, we must take decisions and make investments now to support - and accelerate - the development of these alternatives and thereby secure a just, but appropriately rapid, transition for the oil and gas industry and the workers and communities currently reliant on it.

“Indeed, I am asking that the UK government now commits to significantly enhancing the climate conditionality associated with offshore oil and gas production.”

Addressing the reason cited by Johnson as justification for the hands-off approach, with the licence for Cambo having been issued 20 years ago, Sturgeon said: “I am also asking that the UK government agrees to reassess licences already issued but where field development has not yet commenced. That would include the proposed Cambo development. Such licences, some of them issued many years ago, should be reassessed in light of the severity of the climate emergency we now face and against a compatibility checkpoint that is fully aligned with our climate change targets and obligations.”

Environmental non-profit groups, as well as Scottish Labour and the Scottish Greens, criticised the statement as lacking clear opposition to the project.

Sam Chetan-Walsh of Greenpeace UK said: “Nicola Sturgeon is deferring to Boris Johnson to check the climate impact of Cambo, but until she makes her own stance clear this is just a PR exercise. The experts couldn’t be clearer: humanity is at code red and the last thing we can afford is a new oilfield which would pump out the equivalent emissions of 18 coal-fired power stations running for a year. The First Minister must stop hiding behind Boris Johnson. If she wants to show leadership on climate she must clearly say: Stop Cambo.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “The UK is the only G7 country to have agreed a landmark deal to support the oil and gas industry’s transition to green energy by 2050 while at the same time supporting 40,000 jobs. Even though demand for fossil fuels is falling and we continue to break records on our use of renewable energy, the advice of the independent Climate Change Committee is that we will continue to need oil and gas in the coming years as it is still vital to the production of many everyday essentials like medicines.

“We have already ended support for fossil fuels overseas and are already designing a climate compatibility checkpoint which will ensure any future licences will only be granted if they are aligned with the UK’s climate change objectives.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles