Fury at Starmer plan to block new North Sea oil and gas projects
David Leask
Sunday May 28 2023, 6.00pm, The Times

Sir Keir Starmer will outline a “national mission” next month to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, which cause climate change
Industry, business and political leaders in the northeast of Scotland have unleashed a scathing attack on Sir Keir Starmer’s “deeply unserious” plans to block new oil and gas developments in the North Sea.

The UK Labour leader will next month outline a dramatic “national mission” to slash reliance on fossil fuels. This will include a ban on all new licences for oil and gas. Energy and business lobbies in Aberdeen and across the north of Scotland have said they accept the need to end reliance on hydrocarbons but want a gradual transition to renewables.

Ryan Crighton, the policy director of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said in an article for The Times: “Accelerating the decline the North Sea simply means importing energy, particularly gas, from other countries. If the alternative is importing, at a greater carbon cost, then surely the UK should always favour domestic production, where we can control the regulatory environment. “Our politicians consistently forget the ‘net’ in net zero. We will still need oil and gas beyond 2050. And if we are to do that in the most efficient way possible, that needs new North Sea fields.”

Paul de Leeuw, an expert in the transition from oil to renewables at Robert Gordon University, described Starmer’s stance as “at the naive end of the spectrum” and said it would “undermine investor confidence”. He said: “Think about the message this sends out to the investment community. If Labour comes to power why would you invest in a North Sea, when you can put your money somewhere else?” De Leeuw added: “The focus should be on reducing demand for hydrocarbons, not supply.”

Fergus Mutch, a former SNP communications chief and parliamentary candidate who helps runs the True North think tank, said the Labour messaging was “deeply unserious”. He added: “This sort of approach puts investment at risk, puts jobs at risk, and puts the resources needed for the energy transition at risk too. We are going to have companies say they cannot continue in the North Sea and that means they cannot continue to develop wind farms either.” Mutch said Labour’s energy policy could trip them up north of the border. “Labour are risking to pull the rug from under an industry that’s a major employer in Scotland,” he said. “They are positioning themselves as a threat to jobs. I think there will be a constituency to whom this plays quite well. But it is not in Scotland.” He has also been critical of his own former party on the North Sea. Humza Yousaf has said winding down the oil industry is a “moral imperative”.

But the first minister has not been as categorical as the signals from Starmer’s team. He has so far not looked to block the development of the giant Rosebank field in the Atlantic. Mutch said he thought the Conservatives — who have seats in the northeast — could benefit from Labour’s stance. Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservatives energy spokesman who is based in Aberdeen, sought too equate what he called Starmer’s “extraordinary and reckless” intervention with the positions of the SNP and Scottish Greens. He said Starmer stood “foursquare” with the two governing parties of Holyrood to “spout the sort of economic and environmental ignorance that shows why Labour is so unfit for government”. He added: “It’s clear he is willing to throw tens of thousands of jobs under the bus in favour of superficial soundbites that take no account of UK energy security, the impact on consumers in a cost of living crisis and would lead to greater reliance on imported energy with far worse emissions and environmental impacts than domestically sourced. “Keir Starmer also completely ignores that we cannot achieve a just transition without the investment, expertise and entrepreneurialism of North Sea businesses. “The oil and gas industry’s immense resources and skilled workforce are an integral part of any transition and it is just this sort of ill-informed policy from Labour that jeopardises our net-zero future.”