Following Rishi Sunak’s disastrous leap backwards on climate policies, the UK government has decided to give the go-ahead to the controversial Rosebank oilfield development, to much international and domestic condemnation.
In 2021 the International Energy Agency, not known for its radical views, said that, to limit global warming to 1.5ºC, there should be no new oil and gas developments anywhere in the world, and that oil and gas production must decline.
Instead of heeding this advice, the UK Government is approving 100 new oil and gas licences. Rosebank is the largest undeveloped field in the North Sea and could produce 300-500 million barrels of oil over the period to 2050. Burning the oil and gas produced would release 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. So just this one oilfield would create climate pollution ten times greater than Scotland’s total emissions target for the year 2030.
Of course by 2050 the UK is supposed to reach net-zero climate emissions – we absorb as much carbon as we emit – and Scotland’s target is for 2045. Giving the go-ahead to the Rosebank development ensures that we will still be responsible for climate emissions for many years after we should have phased out fossil fuels.
And what is this oil for ? Currently around 60% percent of oil production goes to transport fuels. Even with the Prime Minister postponing the ban on the sales of petrol and diesel cars and vans to 2035 there will still be rapidly declining demand for transport fuels over the next two decades. With cars, buses, lorries, trains, ships and even planes being electrified or looking at biofuels, there just won’t be much need for all that oil.
Of course, as with most oil produced from UK waters, most of the Rosebank oil will be exported to the highest bidder, so it will do nothing to reduce fuel bills in the UK or increase energy security. And the UK’s ultra-generous system of tax breaks for the oil industry means we tax payers will be subsidising the profits of Rosebank’s developers, Equinor and Ithaca Energy, to the tune of nearly £4bn. That’s £4bn that could instead be developing more renewables, insulating people’s homes or installing heat pumps.
The oil industry like to tell us that they will be cutting emissions, but what they mean is that they will cut the emissions involved in extracting oil but do anything at all to reduce the amount of fossil fuels that they are extracting, which go on to create yet more climate change.
Industry also like to go on about carbon capture and storage, but this is a technology which might work for gas, if anyone is willing to pay the eye-watering price, but does nothing for oil. The world could continue burning oil if we captured the carbon back from the atmosphere (more exorbitant and unproven technology) and pumped it under the sea. But why gamble on such craziness when we could just stop producing oil in the first place ?
The decision to proceed with Rosebank, and the 100 other licences, is a disaster for the climate and for the drive to clean energy, and will delay the just transition to zero-carbon industries that workers and communities so desperately need.
Find out more about the campaign to Stop Rosebank here: https://www.stopcambo.org.uk
A version of this article was published in the Scotsman newspaper on 4th October 2023.
Image: protest outside UK Government office 30th Sept 2023, FoE Scotland