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Net Zero Rules On Chopping Block To Boost North Sea Oil Production

north sea oil rig

Net-zero rules for the North Sea are to be watered down under proposals aimed at freeing the West from its reliance on Russian fossil fuel in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Officials are examining a plan that would allow new oil and gas drilling to go ahead on national security grounds, even if it violates a ban on schemes that could damage Britain’s bid to go carbon neutral by 2050. [bold, links added]

The move – which would be a major policy reversal just months after Boris Johnson pledged to lead the fight against climate change at the Cop26 conference – comes as the Prime Minister pushes for more energy imports from Saudi Arabia and weighs up ending a ban on fracking.

Ministers are currently consulting on proposals for so-called climate compatibility checkpoints, which companies must pass to win drilling licenses in North Sea oil and gas fields.

These are designed to ensure projects only go ahead if they meet stringent criteria that take into account UK oil demand, the availability of clean energy, and the industry’s progress against emission reduction targets.

However, the Government is now considering ways that these rules can be avoided in order to protect the country’s domestic energy supply.

Proposals being considered are said to include a relaxation of the checkpoints so drilling is allowed for geopolitical and national security reasons.

Ministers could alternatively be granted the power to override a decision on national security grounds, a source told Bloomberg.

European nations are racing to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Although Britain directly imports very little from Russia, the likes of Germany are heavily dependent on the Kremlin for their energy needs.

Any attempt to cut Russia out will drive up costs for British households because the UK market is closely linked to that of the Continent, so expanding alternative sources of oil and gas is seen as essential to protect consumers.

The UK has pledged to phase out oil imports from Russia by the end of this year and has said it is exploring its options in the gas market.

Mr. Johnson is visiting Saudi Arabia on a three-day trip intended to encourage the country to boost production and is also revisiting a fracking moratorium at home.

The controversial practice – in which high-pressure water is injected into rock to fracture it and free up trapped gas – was put on hold in 2019 following complaints about [very minor] earthquakes.

But Greg Hands, a business minister, told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the Oil and Gas Authority is “ready to consider” an application to extend the use of the two fracking sites in Lancashire.

Owned by the energy firm Cuadrilla, the wells were the first to frack onshore in the UK but the company has been ordered to seal them with concrete.

Mr. Hands said: “I can tell my honorable friend that my right honorable friend the Secretary for State and I met with the Oil and Gas Authority on Tuesday and they are ready to consider Cuadrilla’s letter and potential application and the Government hopes the regulator would consider it favorably,”

Mr. Hands added that he was told Cuadrilla had not yet made an application to keep the wells open for another year.

It is understood that the regulator will be able to make a decision on any application in a “matter of hours”.

Cuadrilla has described the decision to press ahead with the deadline as “ridiculous”.

Francis Egan, its chief executive, said: “At a time when the UK is spending billions of pounds annually importing gas from all corners of the globe, and gas prices for hard-pressed UK households are rocketing, the UK government has chosen this moment to ask us to plug and abandon the only two viable shale gas wells in Britain.

A government spokesman said: “There will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas while we transition to low carbon energy, but we will continue to back North Sea oil and gas production for security of supply during this transition.”

Read more at Daily Telegraph

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