Rosebank shows the UK’s offshore oil regulator no longer serves the public good

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Igor Hotinsky / Shutterstock

Gisa Weszkalnys, London School of Economics and Political Science and Gavin Bridge, Durham University

In a four-line statement announcing the approval of the new Rosebank oil field 80 miles west of Shetland, the UK’s offshore oil and gas regulator showed its mission no longer serves the public good.

The announcement by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which regulates oil and gas extraction in the waters off the British coast, asserted that net zero considerations had been taken into account – a technical definition that makes it appear long-term oil production is compatible with climate goals. This has outraged and dismayed climate scientists, campaigners, and the many other people concerned about the UK’s faltering climate leadership.

The approval greenlights a process that is expected to produce first oil by 2026, and around 300 million barrels of oil (and a smaller amount of gas) over the next two decades. The project’s developers are Equinor, an oil company owned for the most part by the Norwegian state, and Ithaca Energy, owned by the Delek Group listed on the Tel Aviv stock exchange.

The decision is out of step with demands for rapid action on climate change coming from a range of quarters. This includes shareholder activists demanding corporations accelerate decarbonisation, direct action groups such as Just Stop Oil, and financiers concerned about the risks of “asset stranding” as renewables become cheaper than fossil fuels.

Public protests and legal challenges to the NSTA spotlight the irrationality and recklessness in the government’s expressed support for issuing new licenses. Activists are not alone in making this point.

A welter of scientific studies and reports by international agencies confirm that new fossil fuel extraction is incompatible with keeping global temperature increases well below 2°C.

Rosebank has been a major focus for climate activism in the past couple of years, as science, international policy and campaigners turn their attention to stopping new extraction, rather than solely focusing on reducing emissions. Calls to end new licensing for oil and gas are in line with climate science.

But a climate politics focused on new licensing alone misses the point. The thing is, like other North Sea oil fields yet to be approved, Rosebank was licensed for oil and gas extraction years ago.

The NSTA approval process follows licensing, sometimes after considerable time has passed. And it is this approval process that locks the UK into hydrocarbon production for years to come.

End ‘maximising economic recovery’

The core objective of the NSTA is to maximise the economic recovery of UK petroleum – a principle shorthanded as MER – as set out in the 1998 Petroleum Act. In practice, this means the regulator’s primary mission is to facilitate the extraction of oil and gas.

A revised strategy in 2021 paired MER with an obligation to support the UK’s net zero commitments. And the former Oil and Gas Authority changed its name to include an explicit reference to the “transition” in 2022, underpinned by ambitions for emissions reduction and decarbonisation.

NSTA sees its job as effecting the industry’s alignment with these goals. It is now also in charge of licensing for carbon capture and storage and offshore hydrogen storage.

Rosebank’s approval therefore reveals a deeper truth: the regulator’s guiding objective fails the public good test. Regulation aims to avoid economic, environmental and social harms, and ensure the public good through delivering collective benefits and upholding socially-desirable ideals. The Rosebank decision arguably breaches this principle.

Supporters of Rosebank argue it will contribute to the UK’s energy security and deploy decarbonisation technologies that reduce CO₂ emissions overall. These arguments do not stand scrutiny, however: oil from Rosebank, like around 80% of North Sea oil production, will be sold directly into international markets and will not materially affect the price of petrol or diesel for UK motorists.

Much of the value of that oil will flow into the portfolios of Equinor and Ithaca. That value could be harnessed to speed up transition to renewables or ensure its benefits are widely distributed, but that’s largely down to Equinor and Ithaca – not the UK government.

The NSTA asserts that its decision has “tak[en] net zero considerations into account”, yet the sector’s own decarbonisation ambitions count only those emissions associated with producing a barrel of oil, and exclude those from burning it (70%-90% of its total impact).

Rewrite the Petroleum Act

A decade ago, a decision by NSTA would not have raised much attention. Now it highlights a significant problem in need of reform. Piecemeal adaptation has left MER and other core regulatory principles untouched, which is at odds with the climate emergency.

Existing licensed fields escape the weak scrutiny embodied in instruments such as the climate compatibility checkpoint, a series of tests to be applied in decisions about future licensing rounds. What’s more, as a litmus test for approval, Rosebank indicates other licensed projects may get the go-ahead, like Cambo.

Removing NSTA’s central objective to maximise economic recovery requires nothing less than a rewrite of the Petroleum Act. This would be an opportunity to fundamentally revise what the North Sea is for, and whether or how to exploit its resources in the future. A start would be to consider a reversal of direction – a “minimising” of economic recovery, for example – which redefines the “economic” in terms of what is socially necessary.

Such a move will inevitably entail reviewing licences already in place, and will likely generate challenges from the sector and other powerful incumbents. Rosebank exposes, however, how the new mission of the offshore regulator has to be about securing a new public good. This needs wider social debate, and should ultimately be decided through parliament.


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Gisa Weszkalnys, Associate Professor of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science and Gavin Bridge, Professor of Geography and Fellow of the Durham Energy Institute, Durham University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingRosebank shows the UK’s offshore oil regulator no longer serves the public good

Just Stop Oil threatens fresh civil resistance if politicians fail to take action on fossil fuels

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https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/just-stop-oil-threatens-fresh-campaign-civil-resistance-if-leaders-fail-take-action

Protesters from Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion, Fossil Free London and Scientist Rebellion take part in an ‘emergency demonstration’ at Parliament Square, central London, January 22, 2024

CLIMATE activists have vowed to launch a new campaign of civil resistance if Britain’s next PM fails to sever reliance on fossil fuels.

Just Stop Oil has delivered letters to the leaders of all major parties ahead of the election on July 4 demanding they commit to signing a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, which would halt expansion and manage a just transition.

They said: “It is clear that continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels in 2024 is nothing short of an act of war against humanity. “

The group warned that if the incoming leader does not establish a legally binding treaty to stop fossil fuel extraction by 2030, they would launch a “campaign of civil resistance,” co-ordinated with movements in Austria, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/just-stop-oil-threatens-fresh-campaign-civil-resistance-if-leaders-fail-take-action

Campaigners take part in a Stop Rosebank emergency protest outside the U.K. Government building in Edinburgh, after the controversial Equinor Rosebank North Sea oil field was given the go-ahead Wednesday, September 27, 2023. (Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)
Campaigners take part in a Stop Rosebank emergency protest outside the U.K. Government building in Edinburgh, after the controversial Equinor Rosebank North Sea oil field was given the go-ahead Wednesday, September 27, 2023. (Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)
Continue ReadingJust Stop Oil threatens fresh civil resistance if politicians fail to take action on fossil fuels

Climate Obstructionism Runs Deep in the UK — Watch Out for It at the Election

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Original article by Freddie Daley and Peter Newell republished from DeSmog.

Credit: Lindsay Grime.

Regardless of who wins next month, fossil fuel interests have multiple levers for influencing policy.

The UK is heading to the polls on July 4. Although it doesn’t get enough attention, the two major parties — the Conservatives and Labour — have chosen climate change and, in particular, fossil fuel production in the North Sea as a clear political dividing line for the electorate. 

As polling day draws closer, and election fervour takes hold, we will see the forces of British climate obstruction in full effect. Influential individuals, organisations and media outlets that seek to block, dilute, delay, or even reverse climate policies will attempt to widen that political dividing line with a mixture of claims to be defending individual freedoms, putting growth first, being ‘climate realists’, or by displacing concerns about the UK’s responsibility to act on climate change through ‘whataboutism’.

The Conservative government, under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has pushed ahead with issuing hundreds of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea. The government was due to further reform the licensing regime so permits are handed out on an annual basis, all under the auspices of ‘energy security’, but the election has halted the bill’s progress through Parliament. Future licences are expected to yield just three weeks’ worth of gas per year

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, however, announced that it will end new licensing for oil and gas in the North Sea, with the very large caveat of honouring those already approved. But even this announcement ignited fierce resistance from the media, trade unions, Labour’s political opponents and some figures it deemed allies. The plan was labelled as “Thatcher on steroids”“naive”, and risked “creating a cliff-edge” for industry and investment in and around the North Sea. In response to the vitriol, Starmer conceded that fossil fuels will continue to be used in the UK “for many, many years”.  

This episode provides a useful insight into how climate obstructionism operates in the UK. In a new publication for the Climate Social Science Network (CSSN) based at Brown University, alongside Dr Ruth McKie and Dr James Painter, we identified three major channels through which obstructionism operates in Britain and the network of organisations that sustain it. 

Financial Power

The first is the material. This speaks to the financial and structural power of the fossil fuel industry that allows it to use threats of capital flight and job losses to curry favourable policy conditions and fend off tax hikes that would dent profitability. It also speaks to party donations, where fossil fuel firms, or those that benefit from their expansion, provide funds to individual politicians or the wider party for access and a say over policy. 

Since 2019, the Conservatives have received £8.4 million in donations from big polluters and those with direct links to fossil fuel production. The current Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, Claire Coutinho, accepted a £2,000 donation in January 2024 from Lord Michael Hintze, a funder of the UK’s leading climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Labour too have taken money from big polluters, most notably Drax, whose North Yorkshire power plant is the UK’s single largest source of emissions.

Alongside the material sits the institutional. The policy making process in the UK provides a multitude of opportunities for actors to shape policy, all within the bounds of proper procedure and due process. All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), informal groups of politicians organised around key themes or policy issues, have provided an effective fora for obstructionist actors to garner access and shape policy. The rules governing APPGs often inhibit public scrutiny. Trade associations, and the companies they represent, can be omitted from official parliamentary transparency logs as only benefits in kind above £1,500 a year must be declared — a threshold many industry bodies claim not to meet. 

Revolving doors between industry and government are another institutional means through which fossil fuel interests can determine policy. An investigation by The Ferret found that since 2011, 127 former oil and gas employees have gone into top government roles and been appointed to ministerial advisory boards. At least a dozen of these individuals were given roles in the North Sea Transition Authority, the organisation tasked with governing oil and gas production, as well as within departments responsible for writing energy and climate policy. Shutting this revolving door, or even just slowing it down through ‘cool-off’ periods, would go some way in curtailing obstructionism. 

Climate Delay

The final, and perhaps most pronounced, thread of climate obstructionism in the UK is discursive, primarily promoted through the media. The right-leaning media in the UK, such as the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, have persistently opposed climate policy and action. This opposition used to be grounded in outright denial, where the integrity of climate science was disputed and denigrated. Now, though, a more pernicious form of discursive obstructionism is prevalent; that of climate delay. 

Countless op-eds and articles have been published that acknowledge climate change but dispute the necessity of addressing it, the cost of implementing climate policy (both economically and in terms of national security), and the efficacy of green technologies such as wind turbines, electric vehicles (EVs) and heat pumps. These interventions, which are sometimes made by individuals with direct links to sceptic organisations or else use their framing, often push blatant untruths to the public, such as renewable energy pushing up household energy bills or solar panels  jeopardising British farming. The media continues to both demonise climate activists and undermine public support for key climate policies. 

In this election, watch out for climate obstructionism. While institutional channels may be curtailed due to purdah, others will pick up the slack. With all parties now firmly on an election footing, donations will become a crucial resource for knocking doors and getting out the vote in marginal seats. The sources of these donations, and the interests behind them, will bear the thumbprint of the fossil fuel industry. The media will increase its scrutiny of manifesto pledges and publish a litany of analyses. It is highly likely that Labour’s climate policy will be painted as a threat to national security, an insurmountable cost to the public purse, and reflecting the demands of both Vladimir Putin and Just Stop Oil simultaneously. The foundation of this framing has already been set. 

What is less clear, though, is what comes after July 4. With a change of government comes a reconfiguration of interests and, for the winners, concessions will be made to those actors and constituencies that helped get them past the post. For the losing party, most likely to be the Conservatives, there may be an ideological reorientation that ends the cross-party consensus on tackling climate breakdown, making them the party of climate obstructionism that challenges the necessity of net zero and fights for more oil and gas. 

This election might be the one that ends 14 years of Conservative rule, but it’s not likely to be the one to end climate obstructionism in the UK.  

Freddie Daley is a Research Associate at the Centre for Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex.

Peter Newell is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex.

They are the authors of a chapter in Climate Obstructionism across Europe, a new collection of essays analysing the organisations, politicians, think tanks and media outlets seeking to delay, derail and denigrate climate policy, produced by the Climate Social Science Network.

Original article by Freddie Daley and Peter Newell republished from DeSmog.

dizzy: I don’t agree that there is “cross-party consensus on tackling climate breakdown.” I suggest that instead the Conservative and Labour parties are indistinguishable in their support of plutocracy, sucking up to the rich and powerful. The Conservatives under Sunak have made no pretence of their intention to forge ahead with exploiting North Sea fossil fuels all they can and Labour do not intend to stop the Rosebank North Sea oil and gas field. Starmer has abandoned so many pledges that he should be recognised as as much a liar as Tony Blair or Boris Johnson.

The title of “… the party of climate obstructionism that challenges the necessity of net zero and fights for more oil and gas. ” is currently shared by the Conservatives and climate denier Nigel Farage’s Reform UK.

Rishi Sunak on stopping Rosebank says that any chancellor can stop his huge 91% subsidy to build Rosebank, that Keir Starmer is as bad as him for sucking up to Murdoch and other plutocrats and that we (the plebs) need to get organised to elect MPs that will stop Rosebank.
Rishi Sunak on stopping Rosebank says that any chancellor can stop his huge 91% subsidy to build Rosebank, that Keir Starmer is as bad as him for sucking up to Murdoch and other plutocrats and that we (the plebs) need to get organised to elect MPs that will stop Rosebank.

Continue ReadingClimate Obstructionism Runs Deep in the UK — Watch Out for It at the Election

‘Disappointing and surprising’: Why isn’t this a climate election in the UK?

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Experienced climbers scale a rock face near the historic Dumbarton castle in Glasgow, releasing a banner that reads “Climate on a Cliff Edge.” One activist, dressed as a globe, symbolically looms near the edge, while another plays the bagpipes on the shores below. | Photo courtesy of Extinction Rebellion and Mark Richards
Experienced climbers scale a rock face near the historic Dumbarton castle in Glasgow, releasing a banner that reads “Climate on a Cliff Edge.” One activist, dressed as a globe, symbolically looms near the edge, while another plays the bagpipes on the shores below. | Photo courtesy of Extinction Rebellion and Mark Richards

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/article/2024/jun/10/disappointing-and-surprising-why-isnt-this-a-climate-election-in-the-uk

More than 400 scientists write to political parties urging ambitious action or risk making Britain and the world ‘more dangerous and insecure’

After five years of record heat and record floods, one might assume British politicians would also pay record attention to the climate issue in the current election campaign.

But with the manifestos due this week, concerns are growing that the response of the two main parties will range from tepid progress to a great leap backwards, despite the certainty of further climate chaos during the next parliament.

In a sign of how worried the experts are, more than 400 scientists have signed a public letter to party leaders, urging them to adopt ambitious policies to prepare the country for the coming turmoil and to honour the UK’s international obligation to address the primary causes – the burning of gas, oil, coal and vegetation.

“It is very clear that a failure to tackle climate change with sufficient urgency and scale is making the UK and the rest of the world more dangerous and insecure,” notes the letter, whose signatories include former UK chief scientist Sir David King, former president of the Royal Meteorological Society Prof Joanna Haigh, and the creator of the “climate stripes” graphic, Prof Ed Hawkins.

The 408 scientists urge parties to promise five measures: a credible strategy to reach net zero by 2050, faster action to adapt the UK to now unavoidable climate impacts, leading by example internationally on “transitioning away from fossil fuels”, increasing climate funding for developing countries and respecting Climate Change Committee advice on North Sea oil and gas fields.

“Without such a pledge, we do not believe that your party deserves support in the forthcoming general election,” they write.

The case for action is now indisputable. More than 99% of climate scientists are sure that human burning of gas, oil, coal and trees is heating the planet. This is no longer a geographically or temporally distant threat to the UK. It is here and now.

Last year, the northern hemisphere sweltered through its hottest summer in 2,000 years, causing tens of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars worth of economic damage. That should have been a wake-up call for humanity to transition away from fossil fuels. In fact, the reverse has happened. Carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere faster than ever, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week.

The past two years have been the hottest the British Isles have ever seen. For the first time, the UK has experienced temperatures of more than 40C. By the government’s reckoning, extreme heat killed 2,295 people in 2023, and another 4,500 the year before that. By 2050, the toll is expected to rise to 10,000 each year, according to the British Medical Journal.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/article/2024/jun/10/disappointing-and-surprising-why-isnt-this-a-climate-election-in-the-uk

Just Stop Oil protesting in London 6 December 2022.
Just Stop Oil protesting in London 6 December 2022.
Continue Reading‘Disappointing and surprising’: Why isn’t this a climate election in the UK?