The United Kingdom has approved further development of one of its biggest new oil and gas exploration projects in years, Equinor’s Rosebank field in the North Sea, saying energy security is the country’s priority despite opposition from environmentalists.
Wednesday’s announcement came after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak weakened the country’s climate targets last week, which critics say could also encourage other countries to scale back their climate targets.
Energy Security Minister Claire Coutinho said the Rosebank field will be less emissions intensive than older oil and gas projects.
“We will continue to support the UK oil and gas sector to strengthen our energy security, grow our economy and help us transition to cheaper, cleaner energy,” she said.
The basis of the plan to make Rosebank less emissions intensive is the electrification of the extraction process.
Norwegian group Equinor said electrification of the field west of Shetland, whose production is scheduled to begin in 202627, will not occur until 2030.
Environmentalists have called on the government to stop the Rosebank development, saying the project contradicts plans for an economy with netzero greenhouse gas emissions.
But Sunak backed the North Sea project in July, saying Britain needed new domestic fossil fuels to improve energy security and that oil and gas would still be part of the country’s energy mix in 2050.
The Rosebank field, relatively small by global standards, is expected to produce 300 million barrels of oil over its lifetime.
Labor, the main opposition party that wants to focus on clean energy, said it would respect all licenses issued before the next election, including Rosebank’s.