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October 19, 2023

New oil and gas developments spell disaster for UK seas

Topics: Oil and Gas

In approving the vast Rosebank oil and gas development, this government has shown its true colours. Part of the gathering pace of roll backs and u-turns on environmental protections across the board, it is nothing short of a barbaric attack on our ocean, our climate and our future.

You can look at this decision from any angle, and unless you are actually the CEO of oil giant Equinor (perhaps even then), you should be able to see it clearly for what it is: unmitigated stupidity driven by short-term greed.

Much has been made of a boost to home grown energy security, so let’s start there. In fact, new oil and gas fields would only cut oil imports by 4% but a faster renewable rollout would reduce these by three times that – 12% – as research from the Institute for Public Policy Research has shown. The same is true for gas, where new fossil fuel developments would only reduce imports by 2% but the transition to renewables would see our reliance on foreign gas drop by 17%.

Nor does Rosebank save us money, either on our own bills, or as a nation. The UK has already committed to giving Equinor tax breaks that will cost the UK taxpayer an estimated three quarters of a billion pounds. And, as the government has already admitted, it won’t cut energy bills because we don’t own the oil and gas. Relying on an oil giant to sell us the Rosebank fuels for a discount seems naïve in the extreme.

Now let’s turn to the devastating consequences for UK seas, which have serious ramifications for every British citizen. Our ocean is not the infinite resource we like to think it is. And in fact, UK waters are at crisis point. Extreme marine heatwaves, government-sanctioned overfishing, and rampant pollution are all putting enormous pressure on our marine life. It is against this backdrop that the government has announced it is approving the Rosebank oilfield.

Along with driving climate breakdown by releasing a shocking 500 million barrels of oil to be burned, the Rosebank oilfield will also damage and degrade one of the UK’s key allies against the climate crisis: the ‘blue carbon’ locked up in our ocean life and habitats.

This crucial tool in our fight to tackle global heating has been neglected by the government, and was entirely absent in the environmental assessment of the impact of Rosebank. In fact, this area, west of Shetland, was identified as home to some of the most important blue carbon resources in Scotland by Scottish Natural Heritage.

The Rosebank drilling and pipelines will destroy extraordinary deep sea sponge communities, rare cold-water corals, and seabed habitats that all help to lock in blue carbon.

The toxic cocktail of pollutants released by the development will also take its toll. Neurotoxins, microplastic and, of course, oil itself will threaten our internationally important marine wildlife, from porpoises to puffins, sharks to skuas. The coastal habitats in Shetland – such as seagrass meadows, saltmarshes and oyster beds – are also key blue carbon stores that would be seriously degraded and despoiled by oil spills.

The good news is, we do not need to take this self-destructive course. The solution is staring us in the face. Protecting our seas will allow them to bounce back to their former abundance, capturing carbon for us as they thrive. The richer and more healthy our ocean, the more it protects us against global heating.

In the UK we also have an enviable abundance of opportunities for cheap, secure homegrown renewable energy that would also provide us with future-proofed green jobs. We could be an international leader in this technology while at the same time reaping the benefits terms of a stable climate and thriving seas.

In the end, ocean protection and a just transition to renewable energy is what will keep Britain’s lights on, not lining the pockets of oil giants.