north sea oil terminal

North Sea oil exploration should be scrapped in favour of net zero, climate experts say

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Cutting the UK’s fossil fuel consumption through net zero measures is a better way to protect consumers from volatile fuel prices than expanding North Sea oil exploration, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has said.

The body, which advises the UK and devolved governments on emissions targets, has urged business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to take this into consideration when considering the creation of a potential “checkpoint” system for new oil and gas licences. The system would ensure that any further exploration would be compatible with the UK’s climate objectives.

“We encourage the government to set stringent tests to the licensing of exploration. Equivalent tests should also apply to later development stages, such as consenting of production,” the CCC said.

Last year, a trade body representing the UK’s oil and gas sector called on the government to invest more in new oil and gas in order to reduce the amount it is forced to import from other countries.

But the UN’s Environment Programme later warned that any plans to expand fossil fuel projects over the next decade would be severely out of line with ambitions to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit temperature rises to 1.5°C..

The CCC said the government should work to improve energy efficiency, shift the UK to a renewables-based power system and electrify end uses in transport, industry and heating. It added that any increases in UK extraction of oil and gas would have “a marginal” effect on the prices faced by UK consumers.

It urged the government to impose a tighter limit on production, with stringent tests and a presumption against exploration.

“An end to UK exploration would send a clear signal to investors and consumers that the UK is committed to the 1.5°C global temperature goal. That would also help the UK in its diplomatic efforts to strengthen climate ambition internationally,” the body said.

Lord Deben, the committee’s chairman, said: “The truth is people’s gas bills, the price of gas, is very, very marginally affected by what we produce in this country.

“The thing that makes the difference is if we move faster towards cheaper forms of generation, to offshore wind, onshore wind, photovoltaics,” he said, adding energy efficiency was also very important.

A Business Department spokesperson said: “There will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming decades as we transition to cleaner and cheaper forms of energy generated in this country.

“As the Business and Energy Secretary has said, turning off North Sea gas overnight would put energy security, British jobs and industries at risk, and we would be more dependent on foreign imports.

“We welcome the committee’s acknowledgement that carbon budgets can still be met if new oil and gas fields are developed in the UK.”

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