Labor Leader in UK Threatens to End Oil and Gas Investment in North Sea

Labor Leader in UK Threatens to End Oil and Gas Investment in North Sea
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  • Labour leader Starmer said that his party would end oil and gas investment in the UK North Sea.
  • Scottish politicians called the plan a ‘job destroyer’.
  • Energy security could be at risk if the UK actually bans new upstream investment in the North Sea.

In January this year, at the Davos summit, the leader of Britain’s Labour party, Keir Starmer, said that if Labour won the next elections, they would put an end to investments in oil and gas in the North Sea.

This month, Starmer reiterated the promise—or threat, as Scotland saw it. The official announcement that a future Labour government will not approve any new oil and gas licenses for the North Sea is due to be made next month.

“What we’ve said about oil and gas is that there does need to be a transition,” Starmer said back in January, as quoted by Reuters.

“Obviously it will play its part during that transition but not new investment, not new fields up in the North Sea, because we need to go towards net zero, we need to ensure that renewable energy is where we go next.”

This month, a high-ranking labour official and shadow work and pensions secretary told Sky News that the move to wind and solar would create jobs and bring energy bills down—something that new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea will not do, according to Labour.

Yet Scotland begs to differ. Right after Starmer said Labour would ban new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond dubbed Starmer the “North Sea job destroyer” and accused Labour of trying to sabotage Scotland’s energy security.

“The last Labour government sabotaged the past Miller project in 2007 depriving Scotland of an early move into both carbon capture and the hydrogen economy,” Salmond wrote in a tweet.

“Now Keir Starmer wants to sabotage the future by a blanket ban on North Sea development. The way to develop the resource compatible with the planet is to make every development consent contingent on a full carbon capture proposal,” he also said.

Scotland itself has rather ambitious low-carbon energy goals, betting heavily on offshore wind because its main potential is there. Yet, speaking of “green jobs”, Scottish media reported that the offshore wind industry has only delivered a tenth of the jobs promised by politicians, which certainly casts a new light on the transition and its promises.

According to official job estimates cited by The Herald, the Scottish offshore wind industry saw a total of 3,100 people in full-time employment in 2021. That’s compared with the stated employment of some 28,000 people, per government visions made public ten years ago.

As for energy bills and the promise that more wind and solar will bring these down, the most recent developments in electricity prices in the UK paint a clear enough picture: when gas is cheap, so is electricity, regardless of how much wind power you produce.

Oil and gas exploration bans are tricky business, especially at a time when demand for both is on the rise despite the best efforts of transition enthusiasts. Colombia earlier this year said it would ban new oil exploration because, per President Gustavo Petro, “The only way to halt the climate crisis is through zero consumption of carbon and petroleum.”

Fast forward four months, and the Colombian government is reconsidering the ban on oil exploration. In fact, it is considering more oil exploration contracts, according to a cabinet minister.

“We’ll certainly take measures to ensure environmental sustainability, but also economic sustainability,” Economy Minister German Umana said, as quoted by Bloomberg, last week.

This, in a nutshell, is what oil and gas production are all about: economic sustainability and energy security. There is, after all, hardly anyone who would argue that locally-produced energy is worse for energy security than imported energy.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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