Labour’s proposed ban on new oil and gas exploration licences in UK waters will undermine the UK’s energy security, jobs and attempts to reach net zero, Offshore Energies UK’s chief executive has warned.
David Whitehouse’s comments followed a speech by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in Edinburgh today, setting out his party’s vision to make the UK a clean energy superpower by 2030.
Mr Whitehouse said he welcomed many of Sir Keir’s comments, especially his recognition of the key long-term role that oil and gas would play in the UK economy to net zero and beyond. He said the industry also strongly supported the UK government’s and Labour’s commitment to making the UK carbon neutral by 2050.
Offshore Energies UK represents over 400 companies involved in producing energy from oil, gas and wind in UK waters. Through the North Sea Transition Deal agreed with the UK Government, the sector has agreed to invest up to £16 billion in low carbon energy, including developing new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, and mass hydrogen production. The sector supports over 200,000 UK jobs, 90,000 of them in Scotland.
The UK consumed about 77 billion cubic metres of gas last year with about 40% coming from UK waters. It also consumed 61 million tonnes of oil with UK production equating to 67% of that total. About 24 million homes rely on gas boiler for heat and, overall, the UK gets about 76% of its total energy from oil and gas.
The Climate Change Committee has said that oil and gas will still meet 50% of the UK’s energy needs in the mid-2030s and that even by 2050, oil and gas will still provide 22% of the UK’s energy needs.
OEUK said new licenses remain an important tool for the UK to protect affordability, support jobs, cut emissions and accelerate the transition.
OEUK Chief Executive David Whitehouse said: “We do welcome Sir Keir Starmer’s recognition of the critical role of oil and gas, and of the offshore industry, and its 200,000 workers in delivering energy security and net zero. Everyone is clear that the energy system must change.
“But Labour’s proposed ban on new exploration licences is too much too soon. It would be damaging for the industry, for consumers and for the UK’s net zero ambitions.
“The figures are clear. The UK has 283 active oil and gas fields but 180 will shut down by 2030. If we don’t replace them with new ones, then production will decline much faster than we can build low carbon replacements. It means the UK will become increasingly reliant on imports.
“UK energy operators produce 40 per cent of our gas and 60 per cent of our oil. We have 24 million homes reliant on gas boilers and 76 per cent of our total energy comes from oil and gas. So North Sea supplies are essential to energy security – and we need new licences just to slow the natural decline in current levels of production while we build the low carbon systems of the future. “As we build that future there is no simple choice between oil and gas on the one hand and renewables on the other. The reality is that to keep the lights on and grow our economy, we need both. By the mid 2030s, oil and gas will still provide for 50% of our energy needs. Consumers and businesses won’t forgive anyone who shuts down Britain’s oil and gas industry only to replace it with imports of foreign oil and gas. We have jobs in nearly every UK Parliamentary constituency and skilled energy communities up and down the country. We need policies that build on our strengths, not undermine them”.