The UK must invest in new North Sea gas fields – or risk shortages, price shocks and surging import bills

Deirdre Michie, Chief Executive, Oil & Gas UK
Deirdre Michie, OGUK chief executive

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North Sea gas production will fall 75% by 2030 without new investment, warns industry body

The global gas shortage that sent prices surging again this week is a powerful reminder of the UK’s need to maintain its own North Sea supplies, according to OGUK, which represents the nation’s offshore gas and oil industry.

On Tuesday wholesale gas prices soared 37% in one day, hitting £4 per therm in short-term global markets (equivalent to £1.41 per cubic metre). This is a 700% increase compared with more typical levels at the start of 2021

Factors causing the latest surge include Russia making a 70% reduction in the amount of gas delivered to the EU via its Belarussian pipelines, plus surging global demand for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) shipments, especially from Asia.  

The UK’s own gas fields in the North Sea and Irish Sea have served the nation well – but their output is falling, partly because too few new fields have been developed. From self-sufficiency in 2004 the UK can now meet only half its own gas needs.

It means the UK is increasingly reliant on imports. In 2020 the nation consumed 74 billion cubic metres of gas – about 1,100 cubic metres per person. Half had to be imported from other countries, including Norway, Qatar Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, Egypt and Nigeria.

OGUK’s Energy Transition Outlook, to be published later this month, will warn that such reliance will increase – unless the UK invests in the new resources known to lie under its continental shelf. Without such investment UK gas output will plummet another 75% by 2030.

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of OGUK said: “The gas resources off our own shores can boost our energy security and protect jobs. The UK industry’s own greenhouse gas emissions, generated during production from these new fields, would also be a lot lower than those generated by liquefied natural gas imports.” “The UK, and our industry are on a journey to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. We fully support this goal but 23m UK homes are still heated by gas which also generates 40% of our electricity, so we will need gas to power us through this green transition. It would be far better to get as much of that gas as possible from sources we can control rather than rely on other countries.”

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