Net zero rules watered down in scramble to boost North Sea drilling

north sea oil gas - Danny Lawson/PA Wire
north sea oil gas - Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Jacob Rees-Mogg has significantly watered down net zero restrictions on North Sea oil and gas projects as ministers push for a drilling spree to boost Britain’s energy security.

In a victory for fossil fuel companies, a “checkpoint” that new developments must pass to get approval will no longer feature tests requiring regulators to take account of the carbon emissions they could generate.

The quiet shelving of the proposal comes as the Government prepares to open a new licensing round that could grant more than 100 permits for drilling in the North Sea.

Oil and gas companies said the decision would ensure “more control over our own economy” and make the UK “less dependent on other countries”.

But the revised checkpoint was branded a “sham” by green campaigners, who have called for a halt to all new oil and gas licences and threatened a barrage of legal action.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Business Secretary, said the need for domestic energy production had become more urgent after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent oil and gas prices soaring.

Under Liz Truss, the Government has vowed to make the UK energy independent by 2040.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “To get there we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production so it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas."

The original “climate compatibility checkpoint” proposed last year included six tests that new developments would have to meet.

These would measure the oil and gas industry’s efforts to reduce the emissions created by extraction itself, the UK’s status as a net importer or exporter of energy, progress in moving to greener sources of energy and whether extracting fossil fuels from new developments was consistent with the UK’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The fifth test would have specifically considered indirect carbon emissions known as “scope 3” created when companies further down in the supply chain burned the oil and gas that had been extracted.

And the sixth would have considered the “global production gap”, or whether the proposals for further drilling would prevent United Nations climate targets from being reached.

The Government said it had decided to scrap the fifth test because it “understands that North Sea operators do not control the final destination of crude oil that they produce, or how it is used once it arrives at its final destination”.

On the six test, it said: “The government accepts that producers globally will ultimately need to leave some oil and gas in the ground in order to meet global climate targets.

“However, in practice, global carbon emission reductions are far more likely to be attributable to reductions in global consumption of oil and gas rather than a proactive curtailment of global production, unilateral or otherwise.”

Philip Evans, energy security campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “New licences torpedo the UK’s energy security.

“They take decades to get going, and the fuels will just be sold to the highest bidder on the international market doing nothing to lower bills here in the UK.

“The government is pandering to outdated, fringe fossil fuel interests.”

He said the charity was now considering whether to launch legal action against the Government.