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Rosebank: Britain's largest untapped oil and gas field gets green light for production

THE UK’S LARGEST untapped oil and gas field has been given the green light for development and production by the British regulator, prompting anger from environmental campaigners.

 Today, Rosebank has been granted development and production consent by the UK Government’s regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA).

Environmental campaigners including Greta Thunberg had voiced strong opposition to the development.

The UK Government said the move would create hundreds of jobs and contribute billions of pounds to the economy, but campaigners claimed the decision was “reckless” and “terrible for our energy security”.

The row over Rosebank has been part of a wider debate on whether the UK should continue to develop new oil and gas fields. The Labour party has vowed to end North Sea exploration – which has sparked anger from unions. 

We will not play politics with our energy security. Even the independent Climate Change Committee has said that in 2050, we will need oil and gas for a quarter of our energy.

— Claire Coutinho MP (@ClaireCoutinho) September 27, 2023

The UK Government has said that it is committed to continuing new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, and has argued that they are compatible with climate targets, and can even provide greener, more local sources of fuel. 

The world’s leading climate science authority, however, the IPCC, and the world’s top energy agency, the IEA, have said that no new oil and gas projects can go ahead if we are to limit global warming to the agreed safer limits. 

The Rosebank field, which lies north-west of Shetland and contains up to 350 million barrels of oil, is currently one of the largest untapped discoveries in UK waters.

Rosebank could produce 69,000 barrels of oil per day, about 8% of the UK’s projected daily output between 2026 and 2030, and could also produce 44 million cubic feet of gas every day, according to its owners.

The companies behind oil field, Ithaca Energy and Equinor, said they had taken their final investment decision to invest 3.8 billion dollars (£3.1 billion) in the project in the first phase of development.

They said that the field is expected to start producing in 2026-2027, with the project supporting around 1,600 at its peak during construction, and long-term will supply around 450 jobs.

Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said: “We are investing in our world-leading renewable energy but, as the independent Climate Change Committee recognise, we will need oil and gas as part of that mix on the path to net zero and so it makes sense to use our own supplies from North Sea fields such as Rosebank.

“The jobs and billions of pounds this is worth to our economy will enable us to have greater energy independence, making us more secure against tyrants like (Vladimir) Putin.

“We will continue to back the UK’s oil and gas industry to underpin our energy security, grow our economy and help us deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner energy.”

But environmental campaigners hit out at the decision.

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

“We know that relying on fossil fuels is terrible for our energy security, the cost of living, and the climate. Our sky-high bills and recent extreme weather have shown us that.

“The ugly truth is that Sunak is pandering to vested interests, demonstrating the stranglehold the fossil fuel lobby has on Government decision making. And it’s bill payers and the climate that will suffer because of it.

“Why else would he make such a reckless decision?”

BREAKING - #Rosebank oilfield just given go-ahead - the greatest act of environmental vandalism in my lifetime, causing emissions equal to 28 lowest income countries, busting #climate targets & doing nothing for energy security since vast majority is for export #climatecriminals

— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) September 27, 2023

And Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “Giving the green light to this huge new oil field is morally obscene. This Government must be held accountable for its complicity in this climate crime.

“Amidst a summer of raging wildfires and the hottest July on record, this Government approves the biggest undeveloped oil and gas field in the North Sea – set to produce more than the combined CO2 emissions of all 28 low-income countries in the world.

“Energy security and cheaper bills aren’t delivered by allowing highly-subsidised, foreign-owned fossil fuel giants to extract more oil and gas from these islands and sell it overseas to the highest bidder.”

The UK Government said Rosebank has been subject to extensive scrutiny by the regulators, including undergoing a detailed environmental impact assessment process and a period of public consultation before approval was granted.

It said that all new projects, including Rosebank, will be in line with the natural decline of the North Sea basin.