David Cameron backed BP’s plans for a £4.5 billion extraction project near Shetland yesterday — and signalled his support for future deep-water drilling operations off the UK coast.
Welcoming the company’s project to expand its operations in the 459ft-deep (140m) Clair field, Mr Cameron said that it was up to the Department of Energy to make decisions about granting consent for the controversial deepwater schemes.
However, he insisted: “We should be looking to try to make these things happen rather than ruling them out.”
BP is also hoping to get permission for its North Uist scheme, in deep water 80 miles to the northwest of Shetland, despite dire warnings from environmental groups about the risk to wildlife and protected areas from a spill. They have written to Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, urging him not to give consent for the project, saying that the environmental consultation had been “wholly inadequate”.
Meanwhile, BP is sinking £4 billion — the highest level of annual investment it has ever made in the North Sea — into the second phase of the giant Clair field, west of Shetland. It forms part of £10 billion being spent on four projects by the company and its partners from Shell, ConocoPhillips and Chevron over the next five years.
The Prime Minister was at BP’s Aberdeen headquarters yesterday and was effusive in his praise for both the company and the oil and gas industry. “This investment is great news for Aberdeen and the country and provides a massive boost for jobs and growth,” he said.
“The oil and gas industry is not only important for our energy security, but is a major source of jobs and is vital for future economic growth. There is still massive opportunity in the North Sea and I am determined to work closely with the industry here in Aberdeen to maximise this and do what we can to promote further investment and exploration.”
Environmental groups criticised Mr Cameron’s robust support for the industry. Vicky Wyatt, from Greenpeace, said “it was frankly risible” for the Prime Minister to continue to claim that he had green credentials. “Nothing could highlight the utter contradiction of the coalition’s position on energy and the protection of the environment more than David Cameron’s dash north to announce more deepwater oil exploration off the west coast of Shetland,” she said.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said: “Talk by our politicians about expanding further our use of oil and gas is nothing short of reckless and is totally at odds with our need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”
Mr Cameron conceded that there were “some people who you will never reassure” about deepwater drilling — those who “quite frankly would probably prefer that we weren’t recovering oil from any part of the North Sea”.
He said that the industry should instead concentrate on trying to “convince a reasonable environmentalist who wants to know that this can be done safely and securely”.