The options are part of a review into the future of the industry, which began last year, in support of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, according to the Sunday Telegraph. They would also bolster the government’s claims to climate leadership ahead of the COP26 talks in Glasgow later this year, which has taken a knock from the controversy over the Cumbria coal mine plan.
The Danish government announced last year that it would end all oil and gas exploration by 2050 and cancelled its latest licensing round. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas raised the prospect of similar action last week during a meeting with COP president Alok Sharma.
However, the proposals would accelerate the decline of the North Sea’s output and the economic prosperity that its fossil fuels have brought, particularly to north-east Scotland. At 1m barrels per day, oil production has fallen to a third of its peak around the turn of the century. Natural gas production from the continental shelf has followed a similar pattern.
Restricting the industry may also lead to greater reliance on imports.
Mike Tholen, sustainability director of industry group Oil and Gas UK said: “The UK’s offshore oil and gas industry recognises the urgent need for change and was one of the first sectors to commit to be a net-zero industry by 2050, setting demanding interim targets to halve its own emissions by 2030.
“By working together, we can help deliver the energy transition, providing the oil and gas the UK will need for decades to come while cutting the impact on the environment. Any curtailment of activity by licencing constraints risks impeding the UK’s ability to deliver a net-zero future, damaging our domestic supply chain and increasing energy imports whilst exporting the jobs and skills.”
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said: “Our review into the oil and gas licensing regime seeks to ensure it remains compatible with our target to reach net zero emissions by 2050. This commitment also forms part of the Energy White Paper published in December.
“We will agree a transformational North Sea Transition Deal with industry to create jobs, retain skills and deliver new business and trade opportunities to support the sector’s transition to a lower-carbon future.”