Stop Cambo oil field or we’ll see you in court, Greenpeace warns government

Campaigners say site’s impact on environment not properly assessed

Matt Mathers
Friday 23 July 2021 11:38 BST
Climate change activists blocked the entrance to a new UK Government hub in Edinburgh to protest against the Cambo oil field’s approval
Climate change activists blocked the entrance to a new UK Government hub in Edinburgh to protest against the Cambo oil field’s approval (PA)

Greenpeace has threatened to take the government to court if it approves drilling at a new oil field in Scotland.

Despite hosting this year's Cop26 climate conference, ministers are considering green-lighting the gas and oil project at Cambo, a North Atlantic site west of Shetland.

If given the go-ahead, a further 150-170 million barrels are due to be extracted from the North Sea bed at the site, which is expected to operate until 2050.

The new wells being proposed at Cambo will only go ahead if the government awards a permit, with the oil field having already been granted a licence by ministers in 2001.

Climate campaigners Greenpeace have written to Kwasi Kwarteng, calling on the business secretary not to rubber-stamp the plans.

Mel Evans, head of Greenpeace UK’s oil campaign, said: “The government is signing off on new oil and is willfully ignoring the carbon emissions that come from burning the oil that’s extracted.

“It is also ignoring North Sea oil and gas workers who are calling for better support in the energy transition, with four in five saying they’d consider moving to jobs in other sectors."

She added: “If the UK government approves Cambo we could torpedo the world’s chances of meeting climate targets, and Boris Johnson will be a figure of failure on the world stage at the upcoming Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow.”

Campaigners said that to approve any new oil projects without assessing their impact on the climate would be unlawful and undermine the government's net-zero emissions targets.

Greenpeace says the government has not properly considered the impact the site will have on the environment.

The NGO said the oil extracted would produce emissions equivalent to 16 coal-fired power plants running for one year.

Before approving a new permit, the government currently carries out checks known as Environmental Impact Assessments, Greenpeace said.

But these checks focus solely on the potential for local environmental harm – such as nearby wildlife and emissions resulting from running a rig – without assessing how the oil and gas extracted would damage the climate when it gets burned, it added.

In Cambo’s case this means that the government’s approval process won’t consider the environmental impact of burning the 170 million barrels of oil that Cambo would produce, Greenpeace added.

In March the government announced that future oil licences would undergo a “climate compatibility check”, to assess how damaging new projects would be for the climate.

But Greenpeace accused the government of creating a "loophole" because the new climate checkpoint will only apply to new licences, not new permits, such as Cambo.

The new climate checkpoint won’t come in until next year and, and Greenpeace says the government gave no detail on whether it will include an assessment of the emissions resulting from burning the oil that gets extracted.

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “There is no ‘loophole’. The climate checkpoint will apply to future oil and gas rounds, while the Cambo oil field was originally licensed in 2001. The secretary of state is not involved in the decision to grant approval for this oil field.

“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 recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee.”

On Thursday, the Scottish Greens said drilling at the oil and gas field is incompatible with Scotland's climate change targets.

MSPs are being urged to back a motion submitted by the party opposing the plans.

Scottish Green climate spokesman Mark Ruskell said: "The North Sea already has more oil than we can afford to burn if we are to meet the Paris climate commitments and secure our survival, so approving new fields would be a catastrophic decision by the UK Government.

"It's important that the Scottish Parliament is clear in the messages it sends ahead of Cop26, and that starts with urging the UK government to see sense on this.

"I urge MSPs of all parties to back my motion."

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