Britain announced Monday the first of several rounds of new oil and gas drilling licenses for the North Sea along with two new Carbon Capture Usage Schemes. File photo by Carina Johansen/EPA-EFE
July 31 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans Monday to grant hundreds of fresh oil and gas licenses for companies to prospect for new reserves in the North Sea as part of a drive to make the country more energy self-sufficient and boost growth.
The plan is part of a commitment to several licensing rounds beginning with 100 licenses to be issued in the fall all of which will be subject to a "climate compatibility test," Downing Street and the North Sea Transition Authority said in a news release.
Simultaneously announcing billions in funding for two new Carbon Capture Usage and Storage schemes by 2030 to capture carbon dioxide from power plants and store it in spent oil and gas fields beneath the North Sea -- one in north-east Scotland and the other in the Humber estuary -- Sunak said home-produced fossil fuels had a much smaller carbon footprint than imported fuels.
He said that events of the past 18 months had shown it was more important than ever for Britain to beef up its energy security by slowing the rapid decline in domestic oil and gas production and build on that independence to deliver cheaper, clean energy to British homes and businesses.
"Even when we've reached net zero in 2050, a quarter of our energy needs will come from oil and gas. But there are those who would rather that it come from hostile states than from the supplies we have here at home," said Sunak during a visit to Aberdeenshire.
"We're choosing to power up Britain from Britain and invest in crucial industries such as carbon capture and storage, rather than depend on more carbon-intensive gas imports from overseas -- which will support thousands of skilled jobs, unlock further opportunities for green technologies and grow the economy."
The government claims the plans will also protect more than 200,000 jobs and sought to link the exploration licenses to future energy security options, unlocking carbon capture usage and storage and hydrogen opportunities -- "offshore energy hubs" that would make the best use of existing infrastructure.
The two new CCUS projects are in addition to two industrial CCUS clusters set to come on stream by 2025 -- "Hynet" in North West England and North Wales and the "East Coast Cluster" on Teesside and the Humber -- part of a $26 billion carbon capture spending commitment.
The opposition Labor Party, which has said it would halt issuing of all new drilling licenses as part of a commitment to bring forward net zero to 2030, accused Sunak of pandering to the right of his party who oppose efforts to tackle climate change.
"One can't help but feel this is a smokescreen," Scottish Labor economy spokesman Daniel Johnson told the BBC, adding that what was needed was a clear plan to make the changeover to net zero.
"We can't keep extracting more oil and expect to achieve our climate targets."
Friends of the Earth responded by urging the government to step up efforts to tap the country's considerable renewable energy potential.
"The U.K. is blessed with huge renewable energy resources, offshore and onshore. It's time we made better use of these to cut emissions and lower bills!" the group said in a Twitter post.
Friends of the Earth was one of 50 groups that wrote Sunak on Friday to express their disquiet over the government's apparent walking back on its commitment to tackling climate change including a plan to halt the sale of all petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030.