The United Kingdom is to grant hundreds of new licenses to seek and drill for gas and oil in the North Sea as it tries to bolster its energy security, the government said on Monday.
The announcement would appear to jeopardize UK's government declared intention to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with climate scientists in wide agreement that an end to new fossil fuel projects is necessary to meet net-zero goals.
The plans by the Conservative-led government of PM Rishi Sunak are in stark contrast to pledges from the opposition Labour Party to ban new oil and gas projects in the North Sea.
Now more than ever, it's vital that we bolster our energy security and capitalize on that independence to deliver more affordable, clean energy to British homes and businesses, the office of British Prime Minister Sunak said in a statement.
Investment in the North Sea will continue to unlock new projects, protect jobs, reduce emissions and boost UK energy independence, the statement said.
As the UK is a rapidly declining producer of oil and gas, new oil and gas licenses reduce the fall in UK supply in order to ensure vital energy security, rather than increase it above current levels — so that the UK remains on track to meet net zero by 2050, it added.
It also said that two new carbon capture usage and storage clusters would be set up in North East Scotland and the Humber regions.
The oil and gas industry regulator expects the first of the new licenses to be awarded in the fall, the government said.
Many European nations have been seeking to diversify their energy supplies particularly amid fallout from Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, which has seen the supply of Russian oil and gas to several countries curbed or completely cut.
Sunak was expected to visit a critical energy infrastructure site in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on Monday, to explain his government's new plans.
The 10 Downing Street release said that hundreds of new oil and gas licenses will be granted in the UK, as the UK Government continues to back the North Sea oil and gas industry as part of drive to make Britain more energy independent.
By adopting a more flexible application process, licenses could also be offered near to currently licensed areas – unlocking vital reserves which can be brought online faster due to existing infrastructure and previous relevant assessments.
With the independent Climate Change Committee predicting around a quarter of the UK’s energy demand will still be met by oil and gas when the UK reaches net zero in 2050, the Government is taking steps to slow the rapid decline in domestic production of oil and gas, which will secure our domestic energy supply and reduce reliance on hostile states.