Britain approves $9.85B Rosebank oilfield development project

Britain's approval Wednesday of a controversial new $9.85 billion oil and gas field off the Shetland Islands, 120 miles north of the Scottish mainland, has met with a storm of angry opposition from environmentalists and politicians north and south of the border. File photo by Carina Johansen/EPA-EFE

LONDON, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- British regulators on Wednesday approved a new $9.85 billion project to develop a major 500 million barrel oil and gas field in the North Sea by the Norwegian state-owned energy giant Equinor and Britain's Ithaca Energy.

The go-ahead for the Rosebank project 80 miles northwest of the Shetland Islands was granted after Equinor and Ithaca satisfied regulators' concerns regarding its impact on the environment and climate, the North Sea Transition Authority said in a news release.

"The consent has been given by the oil and gas regulator to owners Equinor and Ithaca Energy, following the acceptance of the Environmental Statement," NSTA said.

"The Field Development Plan is awarded in accordance with our published guidance and taking net zero considerations into account throughout the project's lifecycle."

The government welcomed the decision characterizing the development as a "highly skilled oil and gas industry strengthening energy security and growing the economy," during a period when the country was transitioning to clean energy and net zero, which it has committed to achieving by 2050.

It said that while the government was scaling up homegrown clean energy such as offshore wind and nuclear, Britain still depended on oil and gas and that would continue to be the case for several decades making support for the country's oil and gas industry crucially important.

"We are investing in our world-leading renewable energy but, as the independent Climate Change Committee recognizes, we will need oil and gas as part of that mix on the path to net zero and so it makes sense to use our own supplies from North Sea fields such as Rosebank," said Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho.

Coutinho added that the deal would strengthen Britain's economy and make it "more secure against tyrants" like Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We will continue to back the U.K.'s oil and gas industry to underpin our energy security, grow our economy and help us deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner energy," said Coutinho.

However, the news has been greeted with consternation by environmental groups and political parties -- although, notably, the official opposition Labor Party said it would not reverse the decision if it wins a general election due to be held by the end of 2024, but would halt the granting of fresh exploration licenses.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas called the decision an "act of environmental vandalism" perpetuated by "climate criminals."

"The greatest act of environmental vandalism in my lifetime, causing emissions equal to 28 lowest income countries, busting climate targets and doing nothing for energy security since vast majority [of production] is for export," she wrote in a Twitter post.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf called the news "disappointing" given concerns his administration had raised that the majority of what is extracted from Rosebank will go overseas and not remain in Scotland, or Britain.

"We recognize the significant contribution the oil and gas sector makes to Scotland. However, our future is not in unlimited oil and gas extraction. It is in accelerating our just transition to renewables. New oil and gas fields being approved risk the pace of that transition," Yousaf said.

"In the face of a climate catastrophe, the U.K. Government have dropped their green pledges and committed to approving 100 new oil and gas licenses. That isn't climate leadership. It is climate denial. Scotland will remain on the right side of history & demonstrate climate leadership,"

"We're investing $608 million so workers & industry transition from fossil fuels to a net zero future."

His predecessor, MSP Nicola Sturgeon, said she agreed adding that by consuming scarce resources that could be going to renewables, projects such as Rosebank risked "slowing the green transition and the jobs that come from it."

"That's not in the interests of those who work in oil and gas -- they need that transition to happen at pace," Sturgeon wrote on social media.

Climate group Friends of the Earth also condemned the decision and urged the government to instead invest "in real solutions to the challenges we face by prioritizing homegrown renewables and developing a nationwide insulation program -- not pouring more gas and oil on a burning planet."

"This is yet another colossal failure of leadership from a government that seems determined to ignore the scientific warnings on the climate crisis. Giving the green light to Rosebank will send U.K. emissions soaring while failing to boost energy security or reduce bills,' said spokesman, Danny Gross.

"The main beneficiaries of this decision will be the fossil fuel firms who have been raking in bumper profits thanks to outrageous tax breaks and our reliance on costly gas and oil - while cash-strapped households are left to pay the price.

The government argues that North Sea gas has a carbon footprint of around one-quarter of that of imported liquified natural gas and that Rosebank was subject to extensive scrutiny by the regulators, including undergoing a detailed environmental impact assessment process and a period of public consultation.

The Rosebank project, which Equinox estimates will pump 69,000 barrels of oil and 44 million cubic feet of gas per day at its peak, represents a direct investment of about $9.85 billion, of which $7.65 billion would go to British businesses.