The UK Government has refused to back Nicola Sturgeon’s opposition to the new Cambo oil field off Shetland – and warned jobs are at risk from “turning off the taps”.
A former senior SNP figure was among those to criticise Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to oppose developing the contentious oil field, after months of the SNP leader being accused of sitting on the fence.
The first minister’s remarks, which come just days after the COP26 climate conference, cements the Scottish Government’s shift away from long-standing support for the future of the oil and gas sector.
In a statement released on Wednesday, a UK Government spokeswoman said there cannot be a “cliff-edge where oil and gas are abandoned overnight” which would put “British jobs and industries at risk”.
However, the spokeswoman said “no decision” had been taken on developing the contentious oil field, with regulators to consider the plan.
Fergus Mutch, the SNP’s former head of communications and research, meanwhile said blocking the North Sea project would lead to “unemployment and more imported oil for decades”.
He ran as the SNP’s election candidate for Aberdeenshire West in the Scottish Parliament election earlier this year and was born and raised in the north-east.
Aberdeenshire Tory MP Andrew Bowie described it as an “incredible admission from one of the SNP’s key figures over the past decade”.
He added: “A cliff-edge switch-off of oil and gas would dump tens of thousands of north-east workers out of a job – overnight – and cripple the economy.
“The likes of Westhill, Portlethen, Blackburn and Kemnay in my constituency would be devastated.”
Cambo oil field
Speaking on Tuesday, the first minister said the west of Shetland project, which could yield as many as 255 million barrels of oil over its lifetime, should not be given the green light.
She had previously urged the prime minister to “reassess” proposed oil and gas schemes.
Climate campaigners say it would be hypocritical to develop the site at a time when countries across the world are being asked to take urgent action to prevent global temperatures from rising.
The Cambo oil field was originally licenced in 2001 and “development proposals for oil fields under existing licences are a matter for independent expert regulators”, the UK Government said.
The operator issues an environmental statement to the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decomissioning (OPRED) and puts it out for consultation.
OPRED then considers the Environmental Statement and any representations made and the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) engages with the operator.
However, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) cannot grant a consent without the agreement of the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
‘Need to address domestic demand’
Aberdeen South SNP MP Stephen Flynn said a just transition will not be achieved by “importing more oil and gas”.
He added: “Before we seek to place a cap on domestic production we first need to address domestic demand and dramatically enhance both our renewable and carbon capture sectors.
“The Scottish Government has been doing everything possible to do just that – the UK Government has not”.
North East regional Tory MSP Liam Kerr claimed the first minister’s position would “ruin the economy in the north-east” and accused her of having “abandoned thousands of skilled oil and gas workers”.
He said the country “cannot flick and switch and stop oil and gas production” as it would “force Scotland to import to meet our domestic needs, creating a bigger carbon footprint”.
Mr Kerr added: “Instead of these outbursts from the first minister we need to have a proper plan for a fair transition to protect jobs and communities.”
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, SNP energy secretary Michael Matheson said the Scottish Government recognises there are “specific sectoral challenges facing the region” but also “significant opportunities”.
He added: “That’s why we have committed some £500 million to a new Just Transition Fund for the north-east and Moray over the next 10 years and I’m also calling on the UK Government to match that investment.
“The Scottish Government’s £75 million Energy Transition Fund will also support the energy sector and the north-east over the next five years.
“These funds will help to protect existing jobs and create new jobs by opening up opportunities through energy transition.”
‘No decision’ taken yet
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “While we are backing the UK’s oil and gas industry’s transition to green energy, there will continue to be ongoing but diminishing need for oil and gas over the coming years while we ramp up renewable energy capacity, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee.
“What we cannot have is a cliff-edge where oil and gas are abandoned overnight. Turning off the taps would put energy security, British jobs and industries at risk and we would be even more dependent on foreign imports.
“The Cambo oil field was originally licensed in 2001.
“Development proposals for oil fields under existing licences are a matter for the independent expert regulators.
“No decision has been taken yet.”