Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill
(Commons Second Reading 8 Jan 2024)
Letter to Kevin Hollinrake MP for Thirsk and Malton
7 January 2024
See also reply below
First of all, I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year from Thirsk Friends of the Earth.
You will of course be aware that the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill is scheduled for its Commons Second Reading tomorrow. We spoke about the government’s decision to expand North Sea gas and oil extraction some time ago during a surgery you held in Thirsk.
At the time, you told us that you supported the government’s position for reasons of national energy security and because the Climate Change Committee itself had accepted that oil and gas would remain part of the energy mix for some time to come.
The same arguments were cited yesterday by the Chancellor in response to the resignation of Chris Skidmore.
Since we last spoke, it has emerged that most of the oil and gas produced will be exported and sold on world markets at world market prices and will therefore have only a marginal impact on domestic energy security. Furthermore, Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho has admitted that the proposed legislation may not in fact help to lower energy bills in the UK. Equally, the arguments that supposedly ‘home-grown’ oil and gas will reduce dependence on autocratic regimes and are more carbon-efficient ignore the facts that Norway and the US (clearly not autocratic regimes) are by far the biggest sources of imported crude oil and LNG and that Norway is also the UK’s biggest and most GHG-efficient source of imported natural gas by pipeline. Finally, the CCC’s observations about the continued need for oil and gas are taken out of context. To clarify its position, the CCC’s chief executive Chris Stark, has stated: ‘The CCC expects continuing demand for fossil fuels over the transition to Net Zero, but that fact alone does not justify investment in new oil and gas fields.’
Maintaining the UK’s energy security is of course a laudable objective, but in our view the potential gains from this proposed legislation are minimal and are considerably outweighed by the downsides, including the loss of our international climate leadership role, continued over-exposure to volatile fossil fuel prices determined on world markets and, by mandating future oil and gas licensing, the potential diversion of investment capital and skills away from crucial renewable energy infrastructure that would indeed provide long-term energy security.
In view of the above, I would like to ask you to consider whether it is appropriate for you to support the bill at the Second Reading stage. I appreciate that voting against a government bill as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Enterprise and Markets is an unrealistic ask. However, for the reasons outlined above, I would urge you to act on the broader question of whether it is in the country’s interest for the government to continue promoting the future production of fossil fuels.
Thirsk Friends of the Earth
Reply received same day (see below)
Dear Thirsk FoE,
Thank you for your email and a happy New Year to you and the Thirsk Friends of the Earth.
I remember our discussion and fully understand why you and the group have come to your conclusions over the new licenses. I also appreciate your email below highlighting additional factors in the discussion. Whilst I appreciate what you have set out, I will respectfully disagree with the conclusion and it will be for the same reasons I set out previously.
I understand Chris’ reasons to resign and have discussed this with colleagues at length. Ultimately, it comes down to what we have previously discussed on the issue (and not to reiterate the points too much). I believe that energy security has been shown to be a major issue, given Putin’s awful invasion of Ukraine, and this will extend to non-green energy supplies until we can be carbon neutral. As we get 75% of our energy from oil and gas, which will continue to provide over 50% of our energy needs in 2035, I do believe it is important to explore new gas and oil licenses. Of course, this does not mean – and I do not want it to mean – that we should not be investing in renewable technologies and alternatives to gas and oil extraction.
Whilst it is highly likely I will support the Bill, and I appreciate this will be a disappointment to you and the group, I will be discussing the matter with Ministerial colleagues.
Wishing you and the Thirsk Friends of the Earth all the best for 2024.