UK faces dilemma over oilfield project

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signalled that a controversial oil and gas field off Scotland will go ahead despite environmental campaigners saying its development would make a mockery of the UK's "ambitious" plans for the Cop26 climate change conference it is hosting.

A production licence for the Cambo field, west of the Shetland Islands, is expected to be approved shortly before more than 150 nations gather in Glasgow for Cop26 in November, when the UK will call on countries for firm action to cut carbon emissions.Development of the field, which was first granted an exploration licence 20 years ago and is estimated to yield 800 million barrels over 25 years, has been opposed by many environmental lobbyists and prompted an 80,000-signature, Friends of the Earth petition being handed in to Downing Street earlier this year warning that approving production at Cambo would “run roughshod over the UK’s commitments to meeting its climate targets”.But on a trip to Scotland on Thursday, Mr Johnson said that, while he would be seeking "ambitious" agreements with other nations to target climate change at Cop26, he said "we can't just tear up contracts" as far as the Cambo field was concerned.The UK oil industry argues that development of the field - which would create about 1,000 jobs directly and many more in the supply chain - would help reduce the UK's reliance on imported oil and would be offset by declining production at fields in the North Sea.Jonathan Roger, CEO of Siccar Point Energy, the company behind exploration at Cambo, claimed that development of the field "supports the country's energy transition, maintaining secure UK supply".He added: "We have proactively taken significant steps to minimise the emissions footprint through its design and Cambo will be built 'electrification-ready', with the potential to use onshore renewable power when it becomes available in the future, in line with decarbonisation targets."A spokesman for, which has a 30 per cent stake in the project, said: "Even the most ambitious scenarios tell us that as the energy system transitions, the world will continue to need oil and gas for decades to come. Targeted investment will generate cash to help fund the growth of our new low-carbon portfolio."Similarly, a spokesman for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in London, said: "While we are working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels, there will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee."  But Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the Cambo project should not go ahead and called on the government to draw up a "hard-edged" timetable to end oil and gas extraction.Friends of the Earth Scotland climate and energy campaigner Caroline Rance said that, while an exploration licence was granted in 2001, it was up to Mr Johnson's government to approve a production licence."Both the UK and Scottish governments must end their hypocritical support for drilling for every last drop of climate-wrecking oil and gas, and instead develop a clear plan for winding down fossil fuel extraction while retraining offshore workers and supporting communities affected by this transition," she said.Hannah Thomas-Peter, climate change correspondent at Sky News, commented: "A particularly thorny problem is developing, one that illustrates the near-impossible balancing act the government must pull off in order to protect its credibility as it urges other countries to increase emission reduction commitments."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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