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Government to ramp up North Sea oil and gas production ‘to maximum extent,’ says Treasury secretary

Climate campaigners urge govermment to focus on renewable energy to cut soaring bills

Samuel Webb
Thursday 24 March 2022 15:37 GMT
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Government plans to increase North Sea oil and gas production, says Simon Clarke

The government is planning to allow drilling for North Sea oil and gas “to the maximum extent” as it looks to wean the UK off Russian fuel, a cabinet minister has said.

In comments that have dismayed climate campaigners, treasury secretary Simon Clarke confirmed fossil fuel projects would be expanded as part of Boris Johnson’s energy security strategy, expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

“We need to get that production going to the maximum extent that we can,” he told the BBC’s Newsnight. “It simply would not be right to support Putin’s war in Ukraine by buying Russian oil and gas, but there are costs to that. We are very candid about that.”

The minister added: “The government will be setting out our wider energy security strategy in the coming weeks. But in essence it means doing more of all of the things that we know we need to do.

“So it means more new renewables, it means more new nuclear, and it means more oil and gas from the North Sea.”

Mr Clarke declined to comment on specifics but said “it certainly it is our intention to unlock more production capacity in the North Sea”.

Environmental campaigners, who have urged the government not to sideline climate concerns in reponse to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, reacted with dismay to the minister’s comments.

Philip Evans, oil and gas transition campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “The government knows that drilling for more oil and gas does nothing to ease our fuel costs because the UK doesn’t own the fossil fuels that come out of the North Sea.

“They’re owned by the company who extracts them and so they just get sold on global markets to the highest bidder, while our energy bills and petrol costs continue to soar.

“The quickest and smartest way to tackle bills - and tackle the climate crisis - is for the government to cut home energy waste by properly insulating our draughty homes; to install heat pumps, and to get behind cheap and clean renewable energy. Anything else is a waste of precious time and money.”

Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Danny Gross said: “The government is deluded if it thinks drilling for more gas and oil will bring down rocketing fuel bills or boost our energy independence. It won’t.

“The vast majority of UK oil is exported, and new North Sea licences will take decades before they start producing fossil fuels.

“The quickest and smartest way to tackle bills - and tackle the climate crisis - is for the government to cut home energy waste by properly insulating our draughty home, to install heat pumps, and to get behind cheap and clean renewable energy.

“Anything else is a waste of precious time and money.”

Boris Johnson last week told oil and gas companies he wanted to “remove barriers” to increased extraction of fossil fuels from the North Sea as part of his plan to wean the UK off reliance on Russian energy.

Oil giant Shell has since indicated it is reviewing a decision to pull out of the controversial Cambo oilfield.

Work on the proposed development off the west coast of Shetland was paused in December after the oil giant decided to withdraw from the project, concluding the economic case for investment was “not strong enough” and also citing the potential for delay.

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