UK Plans to "Max Out" Offshore Oil and Gas Production

The controversial Rosebank field development plan would be among the licenses approved (illustration courtesy Chevron)

Published Jul 31, 2023 10:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced plans to approve more than 100 new offshore oil and gas licenses as part of a policy of "maxing out" Britain's energy reserves, in the words of one of his ministers. The move was announced alongside news of two new storage sites for carbon capture projects.

Sunak announced the approvals during a press conference at a natural gas terminal near Aberdeen, Scotland, the spiritual home of the UK's offshore industry. He said that the license approvals would include a green light for the controversial Rosebank oil field, which has been targeted by environmental campaigners.

Sunak asserted that the new oil and gas license activity would be consistent with the UK's net-zero commitments because it would save the carbon-intensive process of shipping imported oil and gas to Britain. 

"My view is we should max out the opportunities that we have here in the North Sea, because that’s good for our energy security," Sunak said. "It’s good for jobs, particularly here in Scotland, but it’s also good for the climate because the alternative is shipping energy here from halfway around the world."

Sunak's critics noted that the vast majority of the UK's natural gas imports are not shipped. About 75 percent of the nation's imported supply comes by subsea pipeline from Norway, where emissions from gas production are lower than in the UK. 

The "maxing out" policy drew condemnation from environmental groups and from the Labour Party, which has pledged to stop new leases. Sunak's announcement amounts to a "culture war on climate," shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said. "The only route to energy security is through homegrown clean power. It is completely mad that Rishi Sunak talks about energy but has no plan to accelerate clean, cheap, homegrown power," said Miliband. 

Friends of the Earth's head of policy, Mike Childs, warned that the extra offshore oil production would accelerate climate change but do "nothing for energy security as these fossil fuels will be sold on international markets and not reserved for UK use." 

Tory MP Chris Skidmore joined the criticism of his party's leadership. “[The plan] 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 favorably on the decision taken today," he said.