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Government refusal of North Sea natural gas field is irrational

Global Warming Policy Forum

The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF) has criticised the government’s decision to halt further natural gas development in the North Sea, in the middle of a worsening energy and gas cost crisis, as bizarre and irrational.

According to media reports, the UK government’s Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) had refused permission for Royal Dutch Shell to further develop the Jackdaw gas field in the North Sea.

Government has yet to issue a statement and it is not clear why OPRED rejected Royal Dutch Shell’s proposal on the Jackdaw field, which could have supplied up to 10% of annual consumption of natural gas in the UK. This would be equal to about 15% of consumption by UK households.

It is suspected that the UK government was reluctant to be seen consenting fossil fuels in the run-up to COP 26, the UN climate conference to be held in Glasgow this November, and which the UK is chairing.

The refusal of the Shell Jackdaw proposal is all the more confusing since natural gas is an essential component in the government’s Net Zero proposals. Natural gas guarantees security of supply on the electricity grid during periods of low wind and solar power output. It is also the source of the about 80% of the hydrogen that government requires to decarbonise otherwise impossible sectors such as marine transport, Heavy Goods Vehicles, agricultural traction, and crucial elements of domestic heating in the drive for Net Zero (See GWPF’s paper on Hydrogen: The Once and Future Fuel for details of the government plans).

Since natural gas is so important to the government’s very own policy goals it is essential that UK national resources should be developed to prevent the over-dependence on international markets that is driving the current gas crisis. This entails facilitating further development in the North Sea, amongst other sources.

Dr John Constable, GWPF’s energy editor said:

Refusing permission for national gas production in the middle of gas import crisis is a bizarre decision, and seems to be driven by the short-term optics of COP26 rather than the public interest and a rational approach to low-cost decarbonisation. Energy policy is too important to be distorted by virtue signalling. Natural gas is essential from many perspectives, and domestic natural gas production should be strongly encouraged.”

Dr Benny Peiser, the GWPF’s director, said:

In face of a worsening energy crisis, Boris Johnson should encourage, as a matter of urgency, the exploration and further development of Britain’s vast natural gas resources, including shale gas, which would bring down energy costs and enhance energy security significantly.”