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UK grants controversial North Sea output to boost energy security

Norwegian oil and gas producer Equinor, along with Ithaca Energy, have been given development and production consent for the Rosebank field. (Stenad pic)

LONDON: Britain on Wednesday authorised new production of gas and oil in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland, one week after the government diluted its net zero targets.

The North Sea Transition Authority, a UK oil and gas regulator, said in a statement that it had “granted development and production consent for the Rosebank field, north-west of Shetland” to a Norwegian-Israeli joint venture.

Norwegian oil and gas producer Equinor and Ithaca Energy, a subsidiary of Israeli group Delek, will together invest US$3.8 billion in the field’s development, a separate statement said.

Equinor has an 80% interest in the project and Ithaca the remainder.

The UK government maintains it must beef up energy security via continued production of fossil fuels following the invasion of Ukraine by key producer Russia, even if it means impacting its target on net zero carbon emissions.

Wednesday’s announcement comes one week after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak softened policies aimed at the UK achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

He did this by saying a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars would be pushed back from 2030 to 2035.

Sunak also announced an easing of energy efficiency targets for rental properties and backtracked on plans to make homeowners replace gas boilers with heat pumps.

The UK oil and gas regulator on Wednesday said the decision to authorise new North Sea output had taken “net zero considerations into account throughout the project’s lifecycle”.

But the announcement triggered fierce criticism from green groups.

“This is morally obscene,” Green Party lawmaker Caroline Lucas said on the X social media platform, formally known as Twitter.

“It won’t improve energy security or lower bills — but it will shatter our climate commitments.”

Philip Evans, Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner, said “Sunak has proven once and for all that he puts the profits of oil companies above everyday people”.

He added in a statement: “We know that relying on fossil fuels is terrible for our energy security, the cost of living, and the climate.”

Geir Tungesvik, executive vice president for projects, drilling and procurement at Equinor, said “developing the Rosebank field will allow us to grow our position as a broad energy partner to the UK, while optimising our oil and gas portfolio, and increasing energy supply in Europe”.