A cross-party committee of MPs has called for flaring on UK oil and gas fields to be banned in the next two years.
The Environmental Audit Committee, in a report published this morning, called for faster action from the oil and gas industry to cut operational emissions by 68% in the current decade, in line with government commitments under the Paris Agreement.
“Oil and gas companies must accelerate their efforts to electrify offshore platforms, stop flaring and address methane leakage.”
The report said the industry regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), should ban outright the routine flaring of waste gas:
“We recommend that the Government introduces an amendment to the Energy Bill to provide for a total prohibition on flaring from installations in the UK’s jurisdiction to be introduced not later than the end of 2025.
“This would help ensure the UK fulfils commitments it made at COP26 and COP27 under the Global Methane Pledge.”
The committee said targets to cut upstream emissions, set under the North Sea Transition Deal, were “weak” and lacked “the urgent and transformative action”, which the government’s climate change advisor said was required:
“there appear to be few sanctions available to the North Sea Transition Authority in the event that companies do not achieve the production emissions targets they have agreed to meet.”
“The oil and gas industry has been aware of the contribution of its activities to man-made climate change since the 1990s, or earlier. A responsible industry should have been working to clean up its operations with far greater urgency than this timescale suggests. The Government needs to push the industry to go further and faster than its current approach.”
The committee recommended:
- The NSTA should review the targets in the North Sea Transition Deal
- The government should set mandatory, rather than voluntary targets, if there was insufficient progress on ending methane emissions from oil and gas operations by 2027
- Oil and gas companies operating in the UK should report annual on progress on decarbonising operations
- The NSTA should publish a league table of the best and worst performing companies
- The NSTA should insist on the electrification of all new oil and gas projects approved under the current 33rd onshore licensing round.
Licensing end date
The committee also said there should be an end date for oil and gas licensing rounds:
“To show its continued commitment to climate leadership, we recommend that the government consult on setting a clear date for ending new oil and gas licensing rounds in the North Sea: this date should fall well before 2050.”
It said the date should be based on the oil and gas production currently being planned by the UK and other producer states and on the remaining global carbon budget if temperatures are to be limited to 1.5°C.
The fossil fuel free campaign group, Uplift, said “calling out the oil and gas industry’s foot-dragging over emissions” was long-overdue.
It described the committee’s report as a “clear rebuke” of the government’s “outdated and costly approach to energy”.
The group’s public affairs manager, Gwen Buck, said:
“Banning flaring and toughening emission reduction targets are reasonable, common sense asks that the government should adopt, given the worsening impacts of the climate crisis.
“It is welcome that the committee has called for an end date for new oil and gas licensing, but the government must go further and set an end date for all North Sea production, not just licences. The committee received powerful evidence from experts, like the International Energy Agency, who firmly said that any new oil and gas supply creates a ‘clear risk’ of breaching safe climate limits.
“What’s heartening as we start this new year is the clear message from Parliament that the only route to a safe and secure energy supply that’s in our control is to speed up the transition away from oil and gas.”
The Weald Action Group, which campaigns against onshore oil and gas operations in southern England, described as “completely inadequate” the recommendation on an end date for new oil and gas licensing before 2050 .
The group’s Kirsty Clough said:
“There must be an immediate moratorium placed on new offshore and onshore oil and gas development now.
“The further exploitation of UK oil and gas reserves will not relieve short term supply constraints; will perpetuate our dependence on fossil fuels thereby continuing to expose us to fluctuating global oil and gas prices; and, in the absence of a worldwide cap on fossil fuel extraction, will contribute to the climate crisis.”
“Spur to net zero”
The committee said ending reliance on fossil fuels would “spur net zero and low-carbon generation” and reduce exposure to the energy price crisis, provoked by the war in Ukraine.
The Conservative chair of the committee, Philip Dunne, said:
“Fossil fuels have helped keep our homes warm, power our cars and generate the majority of our electricity. Britain will continue to need to access fossil fuel supplies during the Net Zero transition.
“But Government should consult on setting an end date for licencing oil and gas from the North Sea. We can accelerate this transition by fully harnessing our abundant renewable energy resources, including tidal energy that can deliver a reliable year-round source of clean electricity, and by upgrading our energy inefficient buildings.”
The committee said the government’s British Energy Security Strategy set out ambitions for low-carbon electricity generation but “significant gaps” remained. It should have “placed far greater emphasis on energy saving measures”.
There should be a “war effort” on home insulation and energy efficiency to cut household energy bills, cut carbon emissions and reduce reliance on fossil fuel imports, the committee said.
Ministers had “missed a window of opportunity to accelerate energy efficiency installations in the warmer months of 2022”.
Part of the energy profits levy (windfall tax) should be allocated immediately to help fund energy efficiency improvements, the committee said.
It called for:
- Greater focus on a rapid short-term rollout of onshore wind and tidal energy
- Developers to be required to fit solar panels on homes to meet the government target
- Consultation by the Department of Transport to improve energy security, reduce oil demand and cut carbon emissions from transport.
The committee also called for an update of the British Energy Security Strategy in Spring 2023 showing what progress had been made on securing energy supplies and improving energy efficiency.