The Cambo field was expected to operate until 2050, the date by which our government has said the UK would reach ‘net zero’ (this is when the amount of greenhouse gas produced is equal to the amount removed from the atmosphere). But Cambo is just the beginning.
Cambo is one of many North Sea oil and gas projects waiting for government approval. Just two of these proposed developments, Rosebank and Tolmount East, would produce an additional 500 million barrels of oil. In total, the 18 new projects in the pipeline have the potential to extract more than 1.7 billion barrels of oil.
This much new oil will blow us past our safe climate limits.
Earlier last year, the head of the influential International Energy Agency, Dr Fatih Birol, warned: "If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year."
When the latest climate assessment by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released last summer, UN chief, António Guterres, called it a “code red for humanity” that should “sound a death knell for fossil fuels”.
Already, the amount of oil and gas in the UK’s existing fields will – if we burn it all – produce emissions greater than our share of what scientists say is safe for the planet. The world cannot afford to open new fossil fuel frontiers. For the UK, this starts with rejecting Cambo and the other North Sea fields.
Contracts for construction and installation have been awarded to overseas firms, meaning the bulk of jobs will be outside of the UK. As part of a global oil market 80% of UK crude is currently exported, and so this field would not meaningfully meet domestic demand for oil.
The UK has created the most generous tax system in the world for oil and gas producers. In 2020, the UK was the only country in which Shell operates where the oil giant didn’t pay tax. Instead, the UK government paid Shell almost $100m.
Meanwhile, the complexity of the Cambo field and high cost of operating in the deep, choppy waters of the West of Shetland basin makes the project high risk. Similar developments have suffered from large cost overruns that have driven producers to bankruptcy. If this happens with Cambo, the UK government could be on the hook for the full clean up and decommissioning costs.
And finally, 80% of UK crude oil – which is what Cambo contains – is currently exported and sold on the global market. Cambo’s oil has little to do with satisfying our domestic demand for oil.