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Labour: Hold firm in halting oil and gas developments, say marine organisations

Press Release Date: June 9, 2023



Daisy Brickhill | email: dbrickhill@oceana.org

New support for the Labour Party’s policy to end oil and gas developments in UK waters has come from a range of organisations and individuals united by their focus on protecting ocean life. In a letter to Sir Keir Starmer, the organisations – coordinated by the NGOs Oceana and Uplift and representing groups of marine biologists, divers, surfers, NGOs, businesses and others – praised Labour’s policy, highlighting its importance in safeguarding marine ecosystems.

As well as exacerbating the climate crisis, new oil and gas extraction has a deeply destructive impact on UK sea life, says the letter, which was backed by leading marine charities including Greenpeace UK, the Blue Marine Foundation and the Marine Conservation Society.

Alongside the more well-publicised large oil spills, smaller, routine spillages from these developments are polluting the UK’s seas on a daily basis. Whales, dolphins and seabirds including some of Britain’s most endangered species and habitats are subject to an unending flow of this ‘chronic oiling’.

Exploration, drilling, and decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure also lead to the release of a variety of pollutants. Toxic chemicals, including carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and the neurotoxin mercury, cause extreme harm or even death to marine creatures. Microplastics, which are released as part of the extraction process, 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.

In addition, seismic airgun surveys – which are used almost exclusively in offshore oil and gas exploration – emit an ear-splitting noise that is 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. These blasts, which affect seals, dolphins, commercially important fish species and other wildlife, can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss, disruption of mating and feeding, and even beach strandings and death.

The UK’s seafloor is also home to some extraordinarily rare and diverse habitats, such as deep sea sponge communities and cold water corals. These habitats, which would be destroyed or severely damaged by oil and gas exploration and extraction, are critical to the healthy functioning of marine ecosystems and provide vital fish spawning grounds.

At present, 352 of the nearly 900 locations being offered for licensing overlap with Marine Protected Areas, which makes a mockery of the concept of MPAs at its most basic level, and undermines efforts being made to make these sites genuinely of benefit to marine conservation.

The more widely discussed climate impacts of these developments will also have drastic consequences for sea life. Ocean warming and acidification will affect marine ecosystems in a multitude of ways, pushing some species to the edges of their resilience.

All this is devastating for our seas, says the letter, but also for the communities who depend on them. From fishers and tourism operators through to sailors, divers, surfers, and wildlife enthusiasts – our reliance on the ocean is often understated. But it is a simple fact that the more our marine environment is polluted and degraded, the less it can give us.

Hugo Tagholm, executive director of Oceana in the UK, said: “Oil and gas extraction in UK waters is already poisoning our ocean and choking our sea life.  Labour’s decision to halt these damaging developments in UK waters is the right one. As the nature and climate crises escalate we cannot afford to continue with this mindless destruction. We must protect our ocean as it protects us, and urgently make a just transition to clean, green energy and jobs.”

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, said: “As our report In Deep Water showed, new oil and gas developments will not only blow us past safe climate limits, they will also degrade and damage UK seas in myriad ways. Along with direct impacts on ocean life and habitats they will undermine our ocean’s ability to protect us from the worst of the impacts of the climate crisis.”

This week on June 10, a ‘Wave of Resistance’ will take place with protests across the UK against the proposed new oil development at Rosebank, off Shetland. This vast new site is another example of many offshore oil and gas developments that sit either partially or completely within Marine Protected Areas.

Notes for the editor

Read the letter in full.

Read the In Deep Water report.

The full list of signatories includes:

  1. Oceana
  2. Uplift
  3. Blue Marine Foundation
  4. Marine Conservation Society
  5. Greenpeace UK
  6. World Cetacean Alliance
  7. Surfers Against Sewage
  8. River Action UK
  9. Surfrider Foundation Europe
  10. Surfrider Foundation International
  11. Environmental Investigation Agency
  12. Flora and Fauna International
  13. British Divers Marine Life Rescue
  14. Whale and Dolphin Conservation
  15. Wildlife and Countryside Link
  16. Parents for Future UK
  17. The Eden Project
  18. Patagonia
  19. Finisterre
  20. The Wave
  21. Inka Cresswell
  22. Lizzie Daly
  23. Charlie Young
  24. Dominique Palmer
  25. Lucy Siegel
  26. Jo Ruxton MBE
  27. Blue Earth Summit
  28. Protect Blue
  29. Sea Shepherd
  30. City to Sea
  31. Oceanographic Magazine
  32. Wavelength Surf Magazine
  33. Carve Magazine
  34. Surf Girl Magazine
  35. London Surf Film Festival
  36. North Devon Surf Reserve
  37. Cornwall Climate Care
  38. Seal Research Trust
  39. Gower Seal Group
  40. The Seal Project
  41. Pembrokeshire Seal Research Trust
  42. World Ocean Day for Schools
  43. Chris Hines MBE