The United Kingdom has opened a new licensing round for companies interested in exploring for oil and gas in the North Sea.
Nearly 900 locations are available for exploration, with up to 100 licenses to be awarded.
The decision contradicts the views of international climate scientists who believe that fossil fuel projects should be closed down rather than expanded.
They argue that no new projects can be undertaken if global temperature rises are to be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), both global bodies for climate science, have expressed similar sentiments.
In a report earlier this year, the government’s climate change advisers stated that the best way to alleviate consumers’ pain from high energy prices was to stop using fossil fuels rather than drill for more.
According to Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new exploration will increase energy security and support skilled jobs.
Furthermore, proponents of new exploration argue that it is consistent with the government’s legal commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. According to them, the North Sea fossil fuel will replace imported fuel, resulting in a lower carbon footprint in production and transportation.
Licenses for 898 North Sea sectors, known as blocks, are now available.
“With Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, it is now more important than ever that we make the best use of our sovereign energy resources,” Rees-Mogg said in a statement.
According to the North Sea Transition Authority, the licensing process will be expedited in areas of the North Sea that are close to existing infrastructure and thus have the potential to be developed quickly. According to the report, the average time between discovery and first production is close to five years, but that gap is closing.
The oil industry and campaigners concur that the reserves won’t be substantial enough to significantly affect UK consumers’ prices for energy.
“This government’s energy policy benefits only fossil fuel companies,” said Philip Evans, Greenpeace UK’s energy transition campaigner.
“New oil and gas licenses will not lower energy bills for struggling families this winter or any other winter in the near future, nor will they provide long-term energy security.”
North Sea oil and gas production peaked around 20 years ago, and the UK has since gone from producing more oil and gas than it requires to importing it from other countries.
According to Offshore Energies UK, which represents the oil and gas industry, there may be up to 15 billion barrels of oil left in the North Sea. It claims that the new fields will be less polluting than their predecessors and that there will be an environmental “bonus.”
The decision to launch a licensing round follows the publication of the government’s “Climate Compatibility Checkpoint,” which “aims to ensure” that the new exploration is consistent with the UK’s climate goals.
The checkpoint criteria consider emissions from oil and gas production and how those emissions compare globally, but they do not consider the carbon dioxide emitted when the oil and gas are burned.