Environmental groups have responded with fury to the UK Government’s plans to issue new oil and gas licenses.
They claim it will spark a “drilling frenzy” in the North Sea that will “unleash more heatwaves, droughts and storms on us all”.
Prime Minister Liz Truss has also been accused of “listening to the whisperings of oil and gas companies” in not expanding the current windfall tax.
Ms Truss set out her plans to protect households from spiralling energy bills on Thursday by announcing a price freeze.
She also signalled her wish to make the UK a net exporter of energy by 2040, and confirmed plans for a new North Sea licensing round to support that aim.
Oil giants will be ‘uncorking the bubbly’
But environmentalists say it will speed up climate change while doing nothing to lower energy bills, given it takes several years for new fields to come onstream.
Rosie Rogers, head of oil and gas for Greenpeace UK, said: “Millions of people will breathe a sigh of relief at being pulled back from the brink of fuel poverty, but it’s the fossil fuel giants that will be uncorking the bubbly.
“Liz Truss has decided to let the likes of Shell and BP enjoy the billions they’re making from the enormous suffering caused by the climate and energy crisis, leaving UK taxpayers to foot the bill.
“If that wasn’t enough, she’s unleashing a drilling frenzy in the North Sea, and fracking in the countryside, which will do nothing to lower energy bills but will boost these companies’ profits and unleash more heatwaves, droughts and storms on us all.
“This approach will not create the energy future we need, with insulated homes and efficient heating powered by cheap renewable energy, but it may break the decarbonisation promises made to the public, on the back of which this government was elected.”
Likelihood of new gas is ‘slim’
A key objective of the new North Sea licensing round is to boost domestic supplies of gas in the long run.
Boosting energy security has been a key objective of governments wanting to stop imports of Russian gas following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
But Tessa Khan, director of Uplift, claims the UK has “already burned most of its gas” and that the majority of what remains in the North Sea is oil.
She said: “Whilst there is no doubt that many across the UK will feel relief at the energy prize freeze, the plan is an utterly wasted opportunity to fix the UK’s broken energy system. This is just an enormous sticking plaster.
“It feels like the new PM has spent the whole summer listening to the whisperings of oil and gas companies. This energy bill bailout is in fact a huge oil and gas subsidy. They are being allowed to keep all their profits on the vain promise that they will invest in UK future energy.
“First, the UK has already burned most of its gas. Most of what’s left is oil, which we export. No amount of ideologically-driven, political will can change the geology of the North Sea. Truss can issue as many new drilling licenses as she likes, but the likelihood of it leading to new gas production is slim.”
Harriet Lamb, chief executive of climate charity Ashden, described plans for new licenses as “totally disingenuous”, adding that they will open the floodgates for a high carbon future.
She said: “The crisis is caused by high oil and gas prices – drilling for more will not address that key problem. It will take years and will add to the climate crisis. Investing in renewables is quicker, cheaper and is the only solution to the climate emergency we are in.”