Humza Yousaf has accused the UK Government of “climate denial” for giving the green light to the largest untapped North Sea oil field being opened up, warning the decision will “risk the pace” of the green transition.
Rosebank, off the coast of Shetland, has been granted development and production consent by the UK Government’s regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA).
The UK Government said the move would create hundreds of jobs and contribute billions of pounds to the economy.
But the majority of the oil produced at Rosebank will be exported overseas while campaigners have vowed to take legal action against the approval, claiming it is “unlawful”.
Last month, the Herald on Sunday exclusively revealed that Rishi Sunak’s claim that new North Sea oil and gas developments were better for the environment is false.
The United Nations, the International Energy Agency and climate scientists have all warned that new oil and gas developments are not consistent with efforts to keep global warming below irreversible and dangerous levels.
Rosebank’s development would also see a pipeline laid through a protected area of the North Sea, the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt, with campaigners warning it could potentially harm this fragile and significant ecosystem and the diverse marine life it supports.
The Rosebank field contains up to 350 million barrels of oil.
Today we're welcoming the decision by @NSTAuthority to grant consent for a new Rosebank development.
It will bring £ billions into our economy and secure thousands of jobs - while supporting our energy security 🇬🇧
Find out more: https://t.co/XEpqBZr22V pic.twitter.com/KrYbfrMOC1
— Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (@energygovuk) September 27, 2023
The development could produce 69,000 barrels of oil per day, about 8% of the UK’s projected daily output between 2026 and 2030, and could also produce 44 million cubic feet of gas every day, according to the companies behind oil field, Ithaca Energy and Equinox.
Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho, said it “makes sense to use our own supplies” of North Sea oil and gas, although any fuel extracted from Rosebank will mostly belong to Equinor, whose largest shareholder is the Norwegian state.
Ms Coutinho said: “The jobs and billions of pounds this is worth to our economy will enable us to have greater energy independence, making us more secure against tyrants like (Vladimir) Putin.
“We will continue to back the UK’s oil and gas industry to underpin our energy security, grow our economy and help us deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner energy.”
Last week at New York Climate Week, the First Minister said he would transform Scotland from the “oil and gas capital of Europe” to the “net zero capital of the world”, but has been accused of putting North Sea oil and gas jobs at risk.
Mr Yousaf had previously been reserved in his opposition to Rosebank, prior to the development’s approval, but has stated he is “disappointed” the plans have been given the go-ahead.
The First Minister said: “We've raised concerns that the majority of what is extracted from Rosebank will go overseas, not remain in Scotland or the UK.
“We're investing £500m so workers and industry transition from fossil fuels to a net zero future.”
Mr Yousaf stressed that SNP ministers “recognise the significant contribution the oil and gas sector make to Scotland”.
But he added: “However, our future is not in unlimited oil and gas extraction - it is in accelerating our just transition to renewables.
“New oil and gas fields being approved risk the pace of that transition.”
Rishi Sunak has been roundly criticised for pushing net zero commitments on transport and heat in buildings further away as a political move ahead of next year’s general election.
Mr Yousaf said: “In the face of a climate catastrophe, the UK Government have dropped their green pledges and committed to approving 100 new oil and gas licences. That isn't climate leadership – it is climate denial.
“Scotland will remain on the right side of history and demonstrate climate leadership.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s oil and gas campaigner Freya Aitchison, labelled the move a “disgraceful decision”.
She said: “Fossil fuels are driving both climate breakdown and the cost of living crisis yet the UK Government is slamming its foot down on the accelerator.
“The fight against Rosebank will continue. Fossil fuel projects rely not only on government support, but also financing and broader public acceptance. People power forced Shell to pull out of the controversial Cambo oil field and Rosebank is three times bigger.
“There is widespread anger at this irresponsible decision and we will keep up the pressure on the UK and Scottish Governments to reject the Rosebank oil field, as well as taking the fight directly to Equinor and Rosebank’s corporate financiers.”
Ms Aitchison warned that “a fair and fast transition away from fossil fuels” will be “one of the defining challenges” of Mr Yousaf’s administration.
She added: “The tide is turning against fossil fuels – climate science could not be clearer that in order to stay within safe climate limits, we must end all new extraction of oil and gas.
“Equinor has been forced to pull the plug on fossil fuel projects in the past, in the Great Australian Bight and recently on the Wisting oil field in Norway. We can and we must stop them again.”
Campaign group Uplift has written to the UK Government and the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), warning over legal action.
Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift and a climate lawyer, said: “By approving Rosebank, Rishi Sunak has confirmed he couldn’t care less about climate change.
“As we’ve heard repeatedly, our world can no longer sustain new oil and gas drilling. And when we’re witnessing scorching temperatures, wildfires, devastating flooding and heatwaves in our seas, it could not be clearer that this is a decision by the Prime Minister to add more fuel to the fire.”
She added: “Rosebank will do nothing to lower fuel bills or boost UK energy security. Most of this oil will be shipped abroad and then sold back to us at whatever price makes the oil and gas industry most profit.
“People in the UK overwhelmingly support moving to cheaper, cleaner renewable energy. This government should be prioritising making sure no pensioner, or family with small children is living in a cold, damp home this winter, not handing billions in tax breaks to obscenely wealthy foreign companies.”
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack welcomed the decision to approve Rosebank.
He said: “It’s great news that the regulator has given Rosebank the green light.
“The North Sea has a huge role to play in ensuring the UK’s energy security while we transition to Net Zero. It’s really important that we maximise our domestic oil and gas reserves, which mean lower emissions than imports, while reducing any reliance on hostile states.
“Rosebank will play a big role in that, as well as growing our economy and providing skilled jobs in Scotland for generations to come.”