In a controversial move, the UK government has granted approval for drilling in the Rosebank oil field, located off the coast of Shetland, Scotland. This decision, made despite repeated warnings about its adverse impact on climate goals, has raised significant concerns among environmentalists and activists.
The Rosebank field is estimated to yield over 300 million barrels of oil and gas during its operational lifetime. However, burning these fossil fuels would result in emissions equivalent to those of around 90 countries and 400 million people annually, according to analysis by Carbon Brief.
The government, led by the Conservative party, has defended its decision by emphasizing the importance of energy security. Energy Security Minister Claire Coutinho stated that supporting the oil and gas industry is vital for the country’s energy security, economic growth, and transition to cleaner energy sources. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has argued for the need for new domestic fossil fuels to enhance energy security, asserting that oil and gas will remain part of the UK’s energy mix even in 2050.
Furthermore, the declining oil and gas output from the North Sea has led the government to consider Rosebank’s development as a means to sustain jobs. Despite the industry’s decline, it still supports around 200,000 jobs, and the Rosebank project is expected to create up to 1,600 jobs during its construction phase. This job creation aspect has been a significant factor in the government’s decision-making process.
Critics, however, argue that the development of Rosebank will not lead to reduced energy bills for the average consumer. Campaign groups like Uplift have pointed out that the majority of the oil extracted, including from Rosebank, will be processed abroad and then sold back to the UK at global market prices. This means that the oil’s economic benefits will not directly translate into lower energy costs for British households.
The approval of Rosebank has sparked strong opposition from environmentalists, activists, and some politicians. Campaigners from groups like Fossil Free London and Stop Rosebank have organized protests and demonstrations outside government offices, expressing their outrage at the decision. Some are even considering legal challenges against the government, arguing that the approval process may have been unlawful.
Despite these concerns and protests, the development of the Rosebank oil field is set to proceed, with the first production expected in 2026-27. As the debate over energy security, economic benefits, and environmental sustainability continues, the UK government’s decision to tap into this significant oil reserve remains a contentious issue, with implications for the country’s climate goals and energy future.