Labour energy plan

Starmer to ban new oil & gas projects in North Sea

Sir-Keir-Starmer-in-Edinburgh-Feb-23
Sir Keir Starmer: will set out his strategy next month (pic: Terry Murden)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will ban new North Sea oil and gas exploration in a strategy that risks a backlash from Scotland’s energy capital.

He will attempt to distance Labour from the Conservatives with a clear commitment to create a “clean energy superpower”.

Sir Keir is keen to take ownership of the Net Zero agenda and is expected to set out the strategy when he launches his latest “national mission” in Scotland next month.

But a pledge to ban all new North Sea oil and gas licences risks creating fury in the northeast where there are warnings that it will deter vital investment that is needed to fund the clean energy projects he wants to pursue. There is also wider concern that running down Britain’s oil and gas sector will undermine energy security and leave the country vulnerable to imports.

The UK government hailed figures published on Thursday showing the UK did not import any Russian gas in the 12 months to end of March 2023, while UK gas exports to Europe tripled over the same period.

Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said this latest announcement was “released just ten days after Starmer looked me in the eye at the BCC conference in London, assured me that the mistakes of the 80s wouldn’t be repeated and that he’d urgently come to meet us and industry leaders in Aberdeen. Phone hasn’t rung yet.

“This strategy sets a clear path to the next Labour government earning the legacy of being remembered as the 21st century Thatcher- in their words destroying working communities.”

David Whitehouse, chief executive of Offshore Energies UK, issued a new warning to the Labour leader.

“People wouldn’t forgive anyone who shut down Britain’s oil and gas industry and replaced it with imports . . . Labour’s approach risks sending the wrong signals,” he told The Sunday Times.

“By investing in homegrown production, we avoid costlier, less secure, and higher carbon footprint imports while supporting the infrastructure we need to make cleaner, more affordable energy in the UK. We urge Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves [the shadow chancellor] to fulfil their promise to listen to industry.”

A protest in Edinburgh last year against the Jackdaw field (pic: Terry Murden)

Currently, domestic production meets about 45% of UK demand. Despite the rise in renewables, 85% of British homes still rely on gas boilers for heat and 42% of the UK’s electricity comes from gas.

There are 4 billion barrels of “proven and probable” oil and gas remaining in the North Sea, according to the most recent estimates. The UK uses about 1 billion barrels a year, with a large chunk of the North Sea output exported for use in plastics and other manufacturing.

Without new licences being approved, experts say output in ten years would be about 80% lower than it is now.

Sir Keir will argue that if the world is to meet its climate emissions targets the UK has no choice other than to make the shift he is promising.

It includes the creation of up to half a million jobs in the renewables industry, including at least 50,000 in Scotland. He believes this will offset those lost from, or transferring from oil and gas.

Political analysts say the announcement is a big risk for Labour electorally as it could swing many green supporters behind the party, or risk losing those it was in the process of winning back from the SNP.

Labour wants to double onshore wind, triple solar and more than quadruple offshore wind power. The party has committed to creating a publicly-owned renewable energy company – a pledge made by Nicola Sturgeon in 2017 and dropped in 2021.

The last licensing round for oil and gas exploration, held by North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), attracted more than 100 bids and two oil fields – Cambo and Jackdaw – have been given licences. Both have drawn significant opposition from climate change protestors.

An alliance of countries was forged at the Cop27 climate change conference in Glasgow last year committed to banning domestic oil and gas drilling.

Amid strong lobbying from Offshore Energies UK the Conservatives at Westminster are allowing limited investment in new fields but haver said they would not approve anything incompatible with net zero greenhouse gas emissions and global warming limited to 1.5C.



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