UK government approves new oil and gas field after finding it ‘would not significantly affect environment’

‘If we carry on down this path, we’ll be dependent on a very expensive, highly polluting energy source for decades longer than is necessary,’ campaigner says

<p>A new oil and gas field project has got the green light to proceed in the North Sea</p>

A new oil and gas field project has got the green light to proceed in the North Sea

The government has given the green light to a new oil and gas field in the North Sea after concluding it would not have a “significant effect on the environment”.

The Abigail Field Development was quietly approved in mid-January - just two months after the UK hosted the global climate Cop26 summit.

Green groups have fiercely criticised the move, accusing the government of hypocrisy and taking action that “only worsens the climate crisis”.

An environmental regulator for offshore oil and gas, which acts on behalf of the business secretary, approved the new oil and gas field on 17 January, according to official documents.

It granted consent on the basis there was “no significant effects on the environment” associated with the project.

The Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) said there would be a “short-term increase in emissions” linked to the Abigail Field Development in its environmental assessment.

But added: “Taken into the wider context of UK atmospheric emissions, I conclude that there will be no significant effect on the environment.”

The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) then approved the Ithaca Energy project on 19 January, giving it the green light to go ahead.

Tessa Khan from Uplift, a group campaigning for a fossil fuel-free UK, said: “Why is the government sanctioning an oil and gas development that will see little to no benefit for UK energy customers or taxpayers, which only worsens the climate crisis, and where the only winners are the oil firm behind the project.”

“If we carry on down this path, we’ll be dependent on a very expensive, highly polluting energy source for decades longer than is necessary.”

It comes as the UK is facing an energy crisis sparked by soaring gas prices. This is in turn fuelling a sharp rise in the cost of living, with household bills set to rocket yet again in the spring.

Caroline Rance from environmental group Friends of the Earth Scotland accused the government of “saying one thing and doing another” by approving the new oil and gas field weeks after having “reaffirmed their commitment” to keeping an increase in global warming to under 1.5C at Cop26.

“Meantime, it is pressing ahead with a farcical plan which would allow continued oil and gas production for years to come,” the climate and energy campaigner said, adding: “The simple fact is that there is no such thing as a climate compatible oil and gas development.”

The Abigail Field Development is planned for a site in the Central North Sea around 200m from Peterhead in Scotland and has an estimated field life of eight years.

Last month, the government defeated a legal challenge brought by environmentalists who argued a drive to encourage oil and gas production in the North Sea was not economic and incompatible with a duty to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

A government spokesperson said: “While we are working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels, there will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years as we transition to lower carbon, more secure forms of energy generated in this country.”

They added: “We cannot turn off our domestic source of gas overnight , as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee. That would put energy security, British jobs and industries at risk, and we would be even more dependent on foreign imports.”

Ithaca Energy have been approached for comment.

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