Home / Blog / North Sea oilfields threaten UK seas as well as our climate

July 11, 2023

North Sea oilfields threaten UK seas as well as our climate

Topics: Oil and Gas

There are a great many reasons why approving the Rosebank oilfield would be the wrong decision. Most visible in the headlines has been the climate impact, and indeed, that is crucial.

Rosebank alone contains 500 million barrels of oil, which would generate more CO2 than the combined annual emissions of the world’s 28 lowest-income countries. An overwhelming scientific consensus tells us we cannot afford any new fossil fuel projects if we are to avoid climate breakdown, let alone one of this size.

There is also the issue of soaring bills and energy security. The government has already admitted that new North Sea drilling won’t cut energy bills because we don’t own the oil and gas. And why would Norway sell us Rosebank fuels for a discount?

The taxpayer – you and I – will be paying for the profits of another oil giant if this goes ahead, to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. Paying yet another profiteering oil giant to pollute our air and sea during the twin environmental and cost of living crises is madness. If we stand for this, we’ll fall for anything.

What could provide us with cheap, secure homegrown energy and clean, green jobs is renewables. In the UK we have an enviable abundance of opportunities for generating renewable energy, not least through our extensive shallow seas. Just one new offshore windfarm would negate the need for new North Sea gas fields, research has shown.

Ocean solution

It is fitting that the ocean should be a vital part of the solution – because the devastating damage to marine ecosystems and the ‘blue carbon’ they store is another central reason to halt all offshore drilling for oil and gas.

The UK’s seafloor is home to extraordinary species and habitats, such as deep sea sponges, cold water corals and the endangered quahog clam, which can live for up to 500 years. All this and more can be obliterated or severely damaged by oil and gas extraction.

Alongside catastrophic large oil spills that make the headlines, smaller, routine spillages from these developments can, and do, pollute the UK’s seas on a daily basis. Whales, dolphins and seabirds – including some of Britain’s most iconic wildlife – are subject to a constant flow of this ‘chronic oiling’.

Exploration, drilling and decommissioning all release a toxic cocktail of pollutants. Along with the neurotoxin mercury, microplastics are ingested by animals up and down the food chain. Over 100 tonnes of microplastics were released into the North Sea by oil and gas operations in 2016 alone, estimates suggest.

Seismic airgun surveys – used almost exclusively in offshore fossil fuel exploration – emit an ear-splitting noise that is 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. Deafened seals, dolphins and other wildlife are profoundly disturbed, and may even die as a result.

Apathy means destruction

Our government cannot continue to ignore the overwhelming evidence of the combined ocean, climate and biodiversity crises.

In the last few weeks alone the government’s own environment minister has stepped down, citing its apathy towards the environment, and the Climate Change Committee has slammed progress on climate, saying that the UK has lost its leadership on the issue. Our national commitment to protecting 30% of our seas and land for nature by 2030 lies in tatters.

Nature is sounding every alarm it can, from boiling seas to burning forests, telling us that business as usual is not an option. There is no business on a dead planet.

Ultimately, we rely on a healthy ocean. It absorbs around a third of the CO2 we pump out, and has taken in over a nuclear bomb’s worth of heat every second for the past 150 years. It stabilises our climate and keeps our planet habitable. It provides us with air to breathe and food to eat, not to mention boosting our mental health.

But it our ocean is neither a golden goose nor a rubbish dump. We cannot continue to exploit and pollute it. Destructive fossil fuel extraction must end now, and a fair transition to renewable energy must begin. Only this will protect marine life, stabilise our climate, enhance energy security, and create long-term, stable jobs. Only if we protect our ocean, can it protect us.


This article was first published in the Daily Express and is reposted here with permission.