Allowing the development of the Rosebank oil field off the coast of Shetland would breach the UK’s climate targets, according to new analysis by Uplift.
Rosebank’s emissions from production alone would see the oil and gas industry fail to meet its emissions reductions targets, which make up part of the UK’s legally binding domestic Carbon Budgets.
The new analysis shows that developing Rosebank would push the UK’s oil and gas industry beyond its targets, which were agreed with the government two years ago in the North Sea Transition Deal (NSTD). Using official data and targets to extrapolate oil and gas carbon budgets under industry targets for each emission reduction period set by the Climate Change Act, the analysis shows that emissions from Rosebank would contribute to pushing the industry past its 2028-2032 emissions budget by around 10%, and its 2033-2037 budget by around 20%. Between 2038 and 2050, it's estimated that industry will wrack up enough emissions between Rosebank and existing fields to blow them almost 40% beyond their implied carbon budget.
This means that even if emissions reduction aspirations of the oil and gas regulator are achieved (~11MtCO2e), the budget to meet NSTD and industry targets would be exceeded by more than a quarter (3 MtCO2e) between 2028 and 2050 if Rosebank was developed.
The Climate Change Committee has criticised the emissions reduction targets in the NSTD as being ‘weak’ and called for steeper cuts. Had the NSTD set stronger targets that aligned with the CCCs advice, the development of Rosebank would blow past these implied targets by even greater margins.
The combined emissions from existing fields and Rosebank push the industry around 65% above the implied budget for upstream oil and gas production during the fifth carbon budget period (2028-2032), and around 45% above during the sixth carbon budget (2033-2027). The overshoots are so large (27 MtCO2e) that the industry would have to more than double the NSTA’s estimated abatement potential of the UKCS between 2028 and 2050 (~11 MtCO2e) to be able to meet targets under a CCC scenario. This is beyond the regulator’s upper estimate for potential emissions reduction from electrification.
Even without new fields coming online, the oil and gas industry is on track to bust its already weak production emission reduction commitments unless measures are put in place to clean up production processes, for example by reducing gas flaring or by powering rigs using floating wind turbines. The industry has made little progress to date, though, because of the costs this would add to production - costs that will be borne by the taxpayer thanks to huge subsidies within the UK governments oil and gas tax regime. Failure by the oil and gas industry to cut production emissions will require other sectors of the economy to decarbonise further and faster if the UK is to meet its domestic climate commitments.
It’s important to remember that the UK’s carbon budgets only account for emissions from the upstream oil and gas sector that are created during the production process. While not insignificant – oil and gas production emissions equate to 4% of the UK’s total emissions – these emissions are dwarfed by the climate pollution created when the oil and gas from these fields is burned. Rosebank’s reserves, if burned, would produce over 200 million tonnes of CO2. To put this into context, that would be more than the combined annual CO2 emissions of all 28 low-income countries in the world.
Citing the latest IPCC report, Alok Sharma, Conservative MP and former President for COP26, said that the government needed to explain how approving new oil and gas fields, like Rosebank, is compatible with reaching net zero by 2050 and with its carbon budget trajectories.
Analysis of emissions from Rosebank makes clear that the oil field is incompatible with the UK’s climate obligations by every test, whether that’s the huge volume of emissions from burning Rosebank’s oil or the production emissions created to get the oil out of the ground. The government must #StopRosebank.
Update as at 30 August 2023:
The government recently provided further information about the delivery of Carbon Budgets 4, 5 and 6 in their Carbon Budget Delivery Plan (CBDP). This includes information about the ability of the North Sea companies to reduce emissions from oil and gas production (for example, by electrifying oil and gas rigs). Under this plan, the oil and gas sector could in theory reduce emissions enough to meet its sector targets during the Fifth Carbon Budget period, both with and without Rosebank. However, Rosebank would still push the industry beyond implied carbon budgets under their targets during the Sixth Carbon Budget period. In addition, experts have serious concerns about the industry’s ability to deliver electrification and realise the ‘abatement potential’ in question.
This updated information also shows that emissions from existing fields are already set to exceed the industry’s 2040 and 2050 targets for reducing upstream emissions, even without Rosebank. Bringing Rosebank online pushes overshoots up even further, blowing past UK climate targets, and meaning that the sector would have to increase their emissions reductions plans more than 10 times over to meet their 2040 and 2050 targets. This is the case even if Rosebank is electrified, which is not the plan Equinor is asking the regulator to approve. All of these scenarios assume no other fields are approved.