Sunak seeks to boost North Sea oil, gas production with annual licensing rounds

Andrew Atkinson, Bloomberg November 06, 2023

(Bloomberg) – The UK will mandate annual North Sea oil and gas licensing rounds under plans to be announced this week, as part of efforts by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government to give certainty to investors and reduce reliance on “hostile foreign regimes.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Legislation to be set out in the King’s Speech on Tuesday would require the North Sea Transition Authority regulator to invite applications to drill for fossil fuels in the North Sea each year, according to a statement issued by Sunak’s office.

Britain has a target to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, but the government says that even by this date the country will still be relying heavily on oil and gas to meet its energy needs. Domestic production, it argues, would improve energy security and make the UK less dependent on suppliers such as Russia.

The path to net zero has become a key dividing line between the ruling Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party ahead of a general election expected next year.

Sunak says the transition must be done in a “pragmatic” way that does not add to household bills. Labour has promised to stop issuing new North Sea licenses if it wins power and instead spend £28 billion ($34.7 billion) a year to fund green investments by the end of the next parliamentary term.

Each annual licensing round would only take place if key tests are met that support the transition to net zero, the government said.

The UK must be projected to import more oil and gas from other countries than it produces at home, and carbon emissions associated with the production of UK gas must be lower than the equivalent emissions from imported liquefied natural gas. If both tests are met, the NSTA will be required to invite applications for new licenses annually.

“Domestic energy will play a crucial role in the transition to net zero, supporting jobs and economic growth, while also protecting us from the volatility of international markets and diversifying our energy sources,” Sunak said in a statement. “The clarity and certainty that our new legislation will provide will help get the country on the right path for the future.”

The NSTA last month issued 27 new licenses. The process had been on hold pending a review of the environmental impact of exploration.

Connect with World Oil
Connect with World Oil, the upstream industry's most trusted source of forecast data, industry trends, and insights into operational and technological advances.