Fracking and drilling for new oil and gas in the North Sea is green and good for the environment, Liz Truss’s new climate minister said on Wednesday.
Graham Stuart insisted that awarding more than 100 licences to companies for North Sea drilling, covering almost 900 locations, and rolling out fracking across the countryside, were green policies. He told MPs on the environmental audit committee that drilling for new fossil fuels would help the UK reach net zero by 2050.
“It’s good for jobs and good for the economy and it is good for the environment,” said Stuart. He argued that as UK oil and gas production was on a declining trajectory, at a faster pace than required by the International Energy Agency, opening up new fields was green because they would have a lower carbon impact than importing oil and gas which was extracted in a less sustainable way. He called the fossil fuel extraction pioneered by Shell and BP in the North Sea “world-leading”.
“Producing [oil and gas] domestically creates only half the emissions around production and transportation than importing it from around the world,” he said. “In terms of the economy and the environment, domestic production is a good thing and we should all get behind it … it is good for the economy, good for jobs and stops us giving money to dubious regimes.”
The committee corrected Stuart on the issue of gas imports. The UK produces 45% of its gas domestically, and imports 38% not from a dubious regime, but from Norway, which has the highest standards in the world for gas extraction and decades ago banned flaring – where the gas is burned off, producing methane emissions and air pollution. Flaring still takes place in North Sea extraction.
Clive Lewis, a Labour member of the committee, also challenged Stuart, quoting the executive director of the IEA saying there should be no new oil and gas drilling beyond 2021 if the world were to stay within safe limits of global heating and meet the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
Lewis also cited the UCL Energy Institute, which said development of new UK oil and gas fields was not compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5C in the Paris climate change agreement. And Lewis referred to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which said rich countries must stop oil and gas extraction to keep the world on track for limiting global heating to 1.5C.
“We have got 38 new oil and gas projects already in the pipeline, and now your government is allowing a further 100 licences to be awarded. Is that going to help us get through to net zero by 2050?” Lewis asked.
“Yes,” replied Stuart. “Why will it? Because production even in the best scenario is still going to fall … The idea that … commissioning all these new oil and gas licences … you are going to be spilling oil and gas into the world, undermining net zero … Well no, because we are an importer, net, we will continue to be all the way to 2050 … so our production is predicted to fall faster than the IEA says needs to happen globally.”
“The industry in the North Sea basin is committed in a unique fashion around the world to reduce emissions around that production by 50%,” he added.
“It … shows why support for the oil and gas industry in this country makes sense.
“They have developed new technologies to minimise flaring and now you are seeing companies like BP and Shell exporting that to other parts of the world. It’s more efficient, it’s good for emissions and it is us playing the leading role that we should in the transition.”
Lewis responded: “So I hear what you are saying, but it seems from my perspective and, I imagine, the public’s perspective, that you are talking about 100 new licences, more exploration, more oil coming out of the ground. It sounds like you are peeing on our heads and telling us it is raining.”
It was also pointed out to Stuart that Lord Deben, the chair of the climate change committee, the government’s statutory adviser, had warned that future oil and gas production in the UK risked undermining the credibility of the its global leadership on climate change, and sent the wrong signal to the world.
But Stuart disagreed: “You have given me these assertions from these various bodies.”
“Scientific research, I think it is called,” said Lewis.
Stuart continued, saying he did not understand the point: “How is it contradictory to net zero for us to produce, on that descending scale, some of the greenest oil and gas in the world?”
Read More: UK fracking and oil drilling good for environment, claims climate minister | Climate crisis