‘Betrayal’: Hundreds of new fossil fuel licences to be granted

Hundreds of new oil and gas licences will be granted in the UK, prime minister Rishi Sunak announced today as part of new energy security plans which have seen widespread backlash.

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), the government’s oil and gas regulator, has today launched the 33rd offshore oil and gas licensing round.

The round is expected to award over 100 licences in total, with the first of the new licences to be awarded in the autumn. These new oil and gas licences could also be offered near to currently licensed areas, which the government described as “unlocking vital reserves which can be brought online faster due to existing infrastructure and previous relevant assessments”.

Sunak also announced today that sites in North East Scotland and the Humber have been chosen as locations for two new carbon capture usage and storage clusters. 

READ MORE: Can we rely on carbon capture and storage to reach net zero?

Sunak said that even after achieving net zero, the Climate Change Committee has estimated that a quarter of UK energy needs will still need to be met by oil and gas, and so he argued this should come from supplies “at home” rather than from “hostile states".

He said: “We have all witnessed how Putin has manipulated and weaponised energy – disrupting supply and stalling growth in countries around the world.

“Now more than ever, it’s vital that we bolster our energy security and capitalise on that independence to deliver more affordable, clean energy to British homes and businesses.”

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However, Chris Skidmore, the MP who published a review of the government’s net zero strategy earlier this year, described Sunak’s announcement as the “wrong decision at precisely the wrong time”. 

He continued: “It is on the wrong side of a future economy that will be founded on renewable and clean industries and not fossil fuels. It is on the wrong side of modern voters who will vote with their feet at the next general election for parties that protect, and not threaten, our environment. 

“And it is on the wrong side of history, that will not look favourably on the decision taken today.”

He also noted that it was “worrying” that the decision was taken during MPs' summer recess when MPs are “unable to hold the government to account”. Skidmore said he is calling for an emergency debate once Parliament resumes. 

Hugo Tagholm, director of campaign group Oceana UK, described the announcement as a “betrayal of the British people by a government entirely fixated on short-term profits, with no regard for a future for our children and generations to come”. 

“The continued extraction of oil and gas from ever-deeper areas of the ocean, through highly sensitive and fragile marine ecosystems, also threatens the marine life that we all depend on, including commercially important fish populations,” he said.

According to Tagholm, “future-proofed jobs” will come from green energy, which he said the UK is “well-placed to provide”. 

He continued: “To achieve real energy security, our government will need to show true leadership, to have the real interests of the nation at heart, rather than lining the pockets of the few.”

Executive director of government and policy at the lobbying body Climate Group, Champa Patel, also expressed disappointment with the announcement. 

Patel said: “The prime minister could have spent this week announcing plans to unblock onshore wind and tackle the backlog of renewable energy projects worth billions of pounds. 

“Instead, his ‘drill, baby, drill’ approach will leave the UK further dependent on fossil fuels, do nothing to cut people’s energy bills and send the wrong message to the rest of the world about the UK’s commitment to a clean energy future.”