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'Selfish': UK to grant 100 new licenses for North Sea oil and gas exploration

FILE: An employee walks along the Total Culzean platform on the North Sea, about 45 miles (70 kilometres) east of the Aberdeen
FILE: An employee walks along the Total Culzean platform on the North Sea, about 45 miles (70 kilometres) east of the Aberdeen Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By David Mac DougallAFP
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Britain's government says the move will improve energy security, while new carbon capture and storage projects will create tens of thousands of jobs.

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The British government is set to grant at least a hundred new licenses for oil and gas exploration and production in the North Sea, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledges to take "pragmatic and proportionate" action against global warming. 

Sunak flew to the northeast city of Aberdeen in Scotland on Monday, the hub of the UK's oil and gas industry, to make the announcement.

"His visit is a clear reminder that it’s the Conservatives who are backing Scottish oil and gas, and the drive to net zero that the industry underpins," said Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Conservatives. 

The announcement comes at a time when green policies are being called into question - within the Conservative majority, by the Labour opposition, and by members of the public - because of their cost to the British people in the midst of inflation.

But Sunak's latest plans have already been strongly criticised by opposition politicians and environmental campaigners, who branded Monday's move as "greenwashing" and a "smokescreen".

The Scottish National Party leader in Westminster Stephen Flynn told the BBC that any new licenses should have an "evidence-based" approach that considers the climate and energy security - considering the rise in oil and gas prices in recent years.

Flynn also said "the looming climate catastrophe" must be considered too. 

The head of Oxfam Scotland, Jamie Livingstone, said the new plan was a "short-sighted and selfish decision," which "flies in the face of climate science and common sense." 

"If these fields come on stream in the future, they will deal another devastating blow to the millions of people in low-income countries whose lives and homes are already being destroyed by a crisis they did least to cause," he added. 

AP Photo
FILE: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Monday 24 July, 2023.AP Photo

Why is the British government granting new oil and gas licences?

Rishi Sunak's Conservative government says it wants to strengthen energy security "and capitalise on that independence to bring more affordable and clean energy to British homes and businesses." 

"We have all seen how (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has manipulated energy, disrupting supplies and stalling growth in countries around the world," Sunak said in a statement.

He points out that even when the UK reaches its carbon-neutral target in 2050, a quarter of its energy needs will still come from oil and gas.

The government says that domestic gas production has about one-quarter of the carbon footprint of imported liquified natural gas, and that new licenses will reduce the fall in UK supply. 

Announcing a decision to grant at least a hundred new licenses puts Sunak in direct opposition to the Labour Party, which is expected to lead in next year's general election and wants to put an end to oil and gas development in the North Sea.

The British government also announced Monday it will invest in two new carbon capture and storage projects, one in northeast Scotland, the other in England. 

They say these projects will create tens of thousands of jobs and help the UK reach its carbon-neutral goals.

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