Rishi Sunak’s flagship legislation to enforce annual licensing rounds for drilling in the North Sea is unnecessary to boost production, the UK’s oil and gas regulator has concluded.
The board of the North Sea Transition Authority “expressed a unanimous view” that introducing a mandatory annual process was not needed and undermined its independence, according to its September minutes.
The policy was announced in the King’s Speech in November, with Sunak arguing it would provide “clarity and certainty” to investors and help boost flagging domestic production.
The opposition Labour party, which has ruled out granting any new oil and gas licenses if elected, labelled the prime minister’s move a “gimmick” given the NSTA had previously held licensing rounds in most years.
Green campaigners said it put a question mark over the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions.
Tessa Khan, executive director of campaign group Uplift, said the NSTA minutes showed the government “pressed ahead with a policy that will do significant damage to the UK’s reputation and efforts to tackle climate change globally, despite being told by the body in charge of licensing that it is completely unnecessary”.
According to the published minutes of the board’s September meeting, there was a “general discussion” about the impending law.
“The board expressed a unanimous view that such a proposal was not necessary for the NSTA to meet its functions under current legislation, including enabling the principal objective of maximising economic recovery of UK petroleum to be met,” the minutes stated.
“The board noted that the proposal would significantly challenge one of the tenets of independence for the NSTA, to decide when to run a licensing round,” they added.
The NSTA board agreed that chair Tim Eggar would seek to meet energy secretary Claire Coutinho to discuss the matter, according to the record of discussions. The government said the meeting took place in October.
A spokesperson for the NSTA said its board “discusses a wide range of issues and represents a diverse range of views. As recognised, government legislation is a matter for the government.”
Read the latest issue of the OGV Energy magazine HERE