Amid calls for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies, the senior Tory claimed that the fossil fuel giants’ profits had to be protected so they can invest in getting “every last drop” from the North Sea.
“We want to get more oil out of the North Sea, we want to get more gas out of the North Sea,” the Brexit opportunities minister told LBC on Monday. “We need to be thinking about extracting every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea.”
Mr Rees-Mogg’s remarks sparked outrage from climate campaigners, as he dismissed warnings that a renewed push for fossil fuels would ruin the UK’s chances of achieving net zero by 2050.
“2050 is a long way off,” Mr Rees-Mogg said. “We’re not trying to become net zero tomorrow. We’re going to need fossil fuels in the interim. We should ours that we have got available.”
Green MP Caroline Lucas told The Independent: “The cat’s finally out of the bag. This government’s sorry excuse for new North Sea drilling – that we’d need it for ‘transition’ in the decades ahead – is clearly nothing but a facade to protect their fossil fuel bedfellows.”
Ms Lucas said: “When this government seeks to extract every last drop of oil, and every last cubic metre of gas, it risks destroying every last glimmer of hope we have of avoiding the devastating future we’re hurtling towards.”
It comes as No 10 confirmed that Boris Johnson’s “energy security strategy” will finally be published on Thursday after a series of delays. The Independent understands that the government will confirm its backing for a new round of North Sea exploration licences.
The prime minister said last month that he wants to “remove barriers” to increased North Sea fossil fuel production following the spike in energy prices and the desire to end reliance on Russian gas.
Separately, six North Sea projects are expected to be given approval by the oil and gas regulator. But climate campaigners have warned that plans to approve new drilling sites will “blow” the UK’s net zero climate target.
Resisting Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Green party calls for a windfall tax on oil and gas, the government has claimed that allowing the firms to keep record profits will help them invest more in renewable energy.
However, Mr Rees-Mogg suggested the firms had to be protected so they could invest more in fossil fuel drilling. “Bear in mind they are very heavily taxed already,” he told LBC.
He added: “If they don’t get these profits in the future … [it] will make the marginal, new wells less attractive – so they will pull out of the investment. They won’t necessarily even look for the existing fossil fuels.”
Philip Evans, oil and gas transition campaigner for Greenpeace UK, condemned the Brexit minister for wanting to “double down” on fossil fuels, adding: “This is intensely foolish, as it takes on average 28 years to bring new oil and gas fields online.”
He added: “Even then, the oil and gas extracted doesn’t stay in the UK, it mostly gets sold off on international markets to the highest bidder doing nothing for household bills in the UK.”
Asked about Mr Rees-Mogg’s “every last drop” comments, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “Certainly it’s right that domestic-produced oil and gas will play an important part of the transition to net zero.”
Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist Dr Doug Parr said the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report – which warns that global emissions must decline by 2025 to avoid dangerous climate change – showed why must fossil fuel drilling must stop.
Dr Parr said Mr Johnson’s energy supply strategy was now “on a collision course” with the IPPC advice to dramatically cut fossil fuel use.
The government’s future energy supply plans have been repeatedly delayed amid reports of cabinet rows. Mr Johnson is expected to bow to pressure from Tory MPs to block new onshore wind farms, with No 10 indicating that strict planning constraints would remain.
Mr Rees-Mogg said he was “very much in favour of going nuclear” – claiming it was more consistent form of energy supply than wind power.
The cabinet minister also described the idea of reopening shale gas fracking sites as “quite an interesting opportunity” – comparing the fracking threat to “a rock fall in a disused coal mine”.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer has said the UK needs a proper energy strategy from the government rather than going “cap in hand” to dictators presiding over fossil fuel supply.
Asked by broadcasters whether his shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds was right to say over the weekend that the country needed to prepare for energy rationing, Sir Keir said: “We don’t need energy rationing.”
The Labour leader added: “We do need an energy strategy. And going from one dictator in Russia for your oil and gas, cap in hand to another dictator in Saudi Arabia is not an energy strategy.”
“We need a strategy that is fast-forwarding on renewables and on nuclear, retrofitting so that we can actually keep our houses and our homes warmer … we don’t have it from this government,” said Sir Keir.
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