THE UK must kickstart a race to extract billions of barrels of North Sea oil and gas to protect the country’s energy security, according to the chief executive of the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA).
Stuart Payne’s comments come ahead of the second reading of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which would require the NSTA to hold annual North Sea licensing rounds, instead of irregular rounds.
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Payne’s organisation is set to issue a further 88 new oil and gas licenses within the coming weeks, a jump on the 27 announced in October.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Payne said: “I am a shameless optimist when it comes to the North Sea,.
“Being candid, there’s a race to get that oil and gas into production, in terms of the economics involved and in terms of the infrastructure.
“Oil and gas has clearly been a dominant part of the North Sea’s history for the last 50-60 years. And it’s going to be a significant part of its next 25-40 years.”
His views follow the UK signing the Cop28 pledge to transition away from fossil fuels.
The expected future Labour government have also set their stall out on the future of the North Sea, but the NSTA chief insists there’s no contradiction between extracting more oil and gas and working towards to net zero.
“Oil and gas is going to be part of a balanced diet. It’s going to be part of an increasingly mixed energy system.
“Some of the oil and gas projects we’ve approved this year will continue producing through the 2050s. This is very far from turning the [North Sea’s] lights off. What we are saying is that the offshore industry is going to change and mature.
“Places like the North Sea are going to get crowded with new technologies like CO2 capture and storage, hydrogen production, offshore wind and, potentially, tidal and wave energy plus gas storage.”
Payne added: “We’ve sunk an absolute fortune, both in terms of money, people and carbon into building this amazing network. It shouldn’t just be for oil and gas, we should be able to save for the next generation of energy technologies.
“Some people will say that the energy transition will be the death of the oil and gas industry but the sector has to find its place in that transition. And it really can.
“We need to make sure we get the kit, the capability and the capital out of the sector. If we want to build carbon capture that’s not going to come from the chocolate industry. That’s going to come from oil and gas.
“We have not been served well by much of the debate around the energy transition.
“Shouting at each other from either end of the argument is a fairly unappealing approach. I think what is always really powerful is where people have actual conversations.
“We live in a world where 75% of our energy comes from oil and gas so where do we want them to be produced? Do we want them to be produced as much as we can in a place where we can control safety, human rights and emissions? And where we can generate hundreds of thousands of well-paid, highly skilled jobs? Or do we no longer care about that as a society?”