UK oil production increased since declaring climate emergency – new report

A new report published today shows that the UK has increased its oil and gas production since declaring a climate emergency in 2019.

Rathlin Energy’s West Newton A site, 24 January 2019. Photo: Eddie Thornton

New fields totalling an extra 800 million barrels of oil have been brought into production in the last two years, according to the report by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Oil Change International.

The extra oil will create climate pollution equivalent to running Longannet, Scotland’s last coal power station, for more than 35 years, the organisations said.

The report comes just weeks before the UK hosts crucial COP26 international climate talks in Glasgow and decisions are due on new onshore and offshore oil fields.

It calls on the UK and Scottish governments to stop all new oil and gas field developments, end financial support for the fossil fuel industry and redirect investment and policy support to renewable energy.

There are 6.5 billion barrels of oil in UK fields that are currently producing or in development, the report said. Another 13.5 billion barrels is in fields earmarked for future development.

But the authors said there could not be new oil and gas developments in the UK if we are to meet our commitment to the Paris climate agreement goal of limiting dangerous warming to 1.5C.

There must be a rapid phase out of oil and gas production over the next decade, they said, along with increasing renewables and a just transition for affected workers and communities.

The International Energy Agency warned in May 2021 that there could be no new oil and gas projects if the world was to meet its climate goals.

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that people had caused “unprecedented” and “irreversible” change to the climate. It said the 1.5C temperature increase could be reached by 2031.

In response, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it was a “code red for humanity”. It must, he said, “sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet”.

Earlier this week, more than 2,000 academics called on governments across the world to end new fossil fuel expansion and phase out existing production through a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Today’s report said the UK and Scottish Governments must reject all new developments, including the Cambo oil field off Shetland which contains 800 million barrels of oil and gas.

But current UK law for offshore wells is to maximise economic recovery – obliging operators to extract all the oil and gas in a licence area.

Onshore, operators have a responsibility under the licences to produce oil and gas as efficiently as possible.

Plans for long-term oil production at West Newton-A in East Yorkshire are due to be decided at the end of this month. Another production project, at Biscathorpe in Lincolnshire, could be decided later this year.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s climate and energy campaigner, Caroline Rance, described oil and gas as “accelerants for the climate fire engulfing the world.:

“Writing the rules for the benefit of fossil fuel companies and encouraging major polluters to keep on drilling for decades to come cannot possibly be reconciled with the action that is needed to cut climate pollution.”

“This toxic combination of political and financial support means the UK now has 6.5 billion barrels of oil and gas in fields that are already open and being drilled, which is more than enough to see us through the transition to clean renewable energy.

“Every time the UK opens a new oil field we get further away from a well-planned just transition.

“Oil and gas production must be phased out in a managed way over the next decade, with investment and support redirected to scaling up renewables across the country and ensuring a just transition so that every worker can retrain and move into a good green job.”

Kelly Trout, research co-director at Oil Change International said:

“The current UK policy of maximizing oil and gas extraction is a plan to maximize climate chaos and injustice globally.

“Staying below 1.5 degrees requires a rapid wind down of oil and gas production and it’s wealthy producers like the UK that have the means to move first and fastest.”

Updated: correction of typo “could” to “could not”

8 replies »

  1. Hi Ruth thanks for your amazing and continuous work!
    I think there’s a typo here with quite vital implications…

    “But the authors said there COULD be new oil and gas developments in the UK if we are to meet our commitment to the Paris climate agreement goal of limiting dangerous warming to 1.5C.”

    Should it read ‘couldn’t’?

    Very best and thanks

    • Dear Laura
      Thanks very much for your sharp eyes and for letting me know. I’ve corrected the typo. I’m very grateful to you. Best wishes, Ruth

  2. Hmmm.

    Yet, during first quarter of 2021 UK imported more than 50% of gas and oil required by homes and power stations-as demand was high and domestic output reduced.

    Quite understandable why exporting countries should do all they can to maintain that.

  3. Maximise our own production or increase imports with higher carbon footprint. Straightforward decision. In parallel, reduce consumption and imports in line with this consumption production.

    FOE Scotland should have a word with FOE Norway and FOE Saudi and FOE UAE etc (do they even exist?) if they want to do anything useful in combating climate change.

  4. Yes, Paul, the data shows for first three months of 2021 that UK is supporting considerable transport emissions that could be reduced. I also believe that UK production produces UK taxation, which is what is needed to pay for transition, on top of Social Care. The costs of the pandemic make it particularly essential that money for other demands is not constrained by offshoring tax revenues.

    But I did enjoy the Freudian Slip! Haven’t seen one for a little while.

    • A quick check of Dukes shows the following headlines for oil:

      “Oil formed one-third of total energy demand in 2020 compared to nearly half in 2019. Demand for petroleum products reached a record low in 2020, down 23 per cent compared to 2019 as restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic limited activity. Most oil demand is typically for transport fuels which were heavily impacted as movement was restricted. The largest contraction was in demand for jet fuel, down 60 per cent on 2019, the lowest level since 1984. Demand for road fuels was also reduced, petrol fell to the lowest level since 1963 and down by 22 per cent on 2019; diesel also fell by 17 per cent.
      The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic also affected trade. Net imports of petroleum products halved in 2020 as the UK imported less fuel to meet the reduced demand. The UK became a net exporter of primary oils, by 0.5 million tonnes, for the first time since becoming a net importer in 2004.
      In 2020 the UK’s total production of oil from the North Sea exceeded refinery demand for the first time since 2004. Total demand for primary oils was down 18 per cent on 2019 with refinery production following suit, dropping to its lowest ever level. In contrast production of crude from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) retained its 42 per cent share of total UK energy production. Much of this was exported abroad.
      Other sectors were also impacted by Covid-19 restrictions. For example, non-energy use fell 9.6 per cent in
      2020 compared to 2019 after several years of growth. Conversely, domestic consumption saw an increase of
      5 per cent because of low prices early in the year and as more people stayed at home.”

      So the trend is down, even without Covid. But FOE Scotland would rather see UK production drop at the expense of imports, UK (perhaps Scotland soon) tax revenues drop, UK jobs drop, and these revenues and jobs go overseas. No wonder they are known as Enemies of Industry. I wonder what Nicola and her new Green friends think of this?

  5. Report from FOE?
    False reporting when they know they are fighting a loosing battle! Renewables will not tip the UK in to using renewables which cannot, and will not take on the current demand which fossil fuels current provide which all the [edited by moderator] anti’s take for granted!

  6. Imported energy prices soaring. Millions facing fuel poverty. Putin’s hold on Europe tightening. I hope the Eco warriors/ selfish nimbys are ashamed of the way they have held back UK energy production while contributing not a jot to reduced emissions. High time our Government shows some backbone & deals with these economic saboteurs.

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