Global Energy Monitor
  • Scott Zimmerman and Hanna Fralikhina

New oil and gas development in the North Sea could produce up to 984 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent and contribute to the United Kingdom exceeding its carbon budget for 2023-2037 by a factor of two.

Neighboring countries have sworn off oil and gas exploration, but the UK, a self-proclaimed climate leader, has rejected calls to do so. Supermajors such as Shell, BP, and Total have plans to start up new fields in the UK North Sea, along with independent oil and gas companies. The 20 largest fields expected to reach financial investment decisions (FID) or receive development consent in the next three years could produce nearly 920 MtCo2, more than most countries in the world produce annually.

The report analyzes potential production 21 of the largest undeveloped fields in the North Sea and finds that development of all or any of these fields would be incompatible with the UK’s and global climate goals.

Official government projections and industry pathways show more oil and gas being produced than would be compatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C. The mature region’s declining production rate exceeds the UK’s fair share pathway, even without any new fields starting up. The development of further fields could lead to more than three times as much oil and gas being extracted than currently in reserves already in development.

The extraordinarily long time horizon for developing and exploiting some of these fields’ reserves—with production in most cases not beginning until 2025 and extending into the 2050s—is also radically at odds with the UK’s Paris commitments.

The report also finds that the UK government’s Climate Compatibility Checkpoint system–ostensibly designed to align oil and gas development with net-zero goals–was built to fail and does not account for all of the climate risks of further North Sea oil and gas development. Not to mention that these fields, and the ones which may come out of the next licensing round, would not reduce energy prices for UK consumers during the immediate energy crisis in Europe–or in the long term.

While environmentalists continue to organize and protest, the number and remote location of these fields make them harder to stop than on-land oil and gas projects.

The energy crisis in Europe is a chance for the UK to kick its fossil fuel dependency but by leasing these new fields the UK is showing it's still hooked on hydrocarbons.

Scott Zimmerman, Research Analyst

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