March 31, 2022

New fast-tracked fields will create huge emissions but not lower bills

New North Sea fields will produce as much pollution as half of the UK but won't lower bills

Six new North Sea oil and gas fields reportedly set to be fast-tracked this year will produce levels of CO2 equal to almost half the UK’s yearly total emissions, according to new analysis by Uplift.

Extracting and burning all the oil and gas from these sites would produce a total 205 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, while doing almost nothing to secure an affordable supply of energy for UK households and businesses.

Of the six named fields, only three would primarily produce gas, with oil accounting for 75% of the reserves. The geology of the North Sea means that, after nearly 50 years of production, the majority of what’s left in the basin is oil not gas – and not the type of oil that we use in UK refineries, which means that we export 80% of it.

The biggest of the gas fields set to be fast-tracked is Jackdaw, which is owned by Shell. Over its lifetime, Jackdaw’s output will only meet around 1- 2% of UK gas demand*. Production from Jackdaw won’t peak until 2026, and will drop by almost 60% within four years. 

In total, the gas from these fast-tracked fields would mean the UK could cut the amount of gas we currently import by just 2.4%. In other words, the UK will still have to import the majority of its gas at global prices unless and until policies are implemented that reduce demand. Energy efficiency measures are also the quickest and easiest way to cut people’s energy bills. 

Increasing the UK’s gas production will not lower household energy bills, a fact the government admits. The price of oil and gas produced in the North Sea is set by changes in gas demand around the world, which is unaffected by any relatively minor increase in production here. As Business Minister, Greg Hands admits: “It’s the global price [of gas] that sets the UK price”.

High gas prices  mean household energy bills will rise steeply from this week, leading to a predicted six million households facing fuel poverty. The ongoing war in Ukraine could push these prices even higher with the Office for Budget Responsibility suggesting bills could hit an unaffordable £2800 in the Autumn. More than 14 million households – one in four adults – will be unable to afford their bills in October if gas and electricity bills rise as predicted, according to charity Citizens Advice.

The six new developments contain, in total, around 420 million barrels of oil equivalent. The huge Rosebank oil field, which accounts for three quarters of the reserves reportedly due to be fast-tracked, contains more than 300m barrels of oil, making it nearly twice the size of the controversial Cambo field. Most of Rosebank’s oil will be exported and will play no role in UK energy security. Equinor is majority owned by the Norwegian state, so the profits from Rosebank will go to the Norwegian public.

Despite this, Boris Johnson has said he wants to “remove barriers” to increased North Sea oil and gas production and make more use of “Britain’s hydrocarbon resources” (which ignores the fact that the oil and gas belongs to the multinational and foreign state-backed companies that own the licences, not the British state). The government’s delayed Energy Independence Strategy, which is the UK’s plan to secure energy supplies and try to reduce costs for households and industry, is due to be published in April.

The only winners from approving new North Sea developments are the oil and gas companies, said Tessa Khan, director of Uplift: “There is almost no public gain from opening up these reserves – the vast majority of which is oil for export. Unlike renewables and energy efficiency, they won’t lower astronomical energy bills and they won't guarantee a secure supply of energy – there’s only enough gas there to meet roughly 2% of UK demand for a couple of years. The only winners are the oil and gas companies who have been whispering in the PM’s ear.

“The government is already off-track for meeting its climate targets, and yet it’s choosing to make the situation much worse by opening up new fossil fuel developments. These targets aren’t abstract or aspirational goals. They determine whether or not we play our part in keeping climate change to liveable levels.”

*​​Uplift analysis of Shell's environmental statement. Sales volumes as % of net gas demand, calculated from 6th Carbon Budget Scenarios.

What can you do about these six new fields?

The UK government is planning on releasing its energy security strategy sometime next week. At this stage, it looks like they'll be pursuing an 'all of the above' energy strategy. This means more wind, more solar, more nuclear and more fossil fuels. We can't let this happen. The answer to rising energy bills and soaring temperatures is a fair and fast switch to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Oil and gas are the cause of this crisis, not the solution.

Please take two minutes and sign our open letter ahead of the UK releasing its energy security strategy.

This isn't over after the government shares their new strategy next week. We're going to take the fight to the two biggest fields the UK is aiming to fast-track: Jackdaw and Rosebank. Over the next few weeks, we'll share our plan to stop Jackdaw, the first field up for approval, and over the next few months we'll share our plan to stop Rosebank.

Watch this space for more details.