The Rosebank oil and gas field is the largest undeveloped field in the UK, according to Ithaca Energy, a subsidiary of Israel's Delek, which will operate it with Norway's Equinor.

The green light was given Wednesday by the North Sea Transition Authority "after acceptance of the environmental statement" of the project and "taking into account considerations" related to the objective of carbon neutrality, said the regulator in its statement.

The two partner companies have assured that the development of Rosebank has been optimized to reduce carbon emissions, in particular by aiming to supply offshore facilities with electricity from the mainland and nearby fields.

Without convincing the ecologists: the Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, after announcing the postponement of several flagship measures of the United Kingdom's climate policy, "proved once and for all that he placed the profits of oil companies above ordinary people," said the NGO Greenpeace in a statement.

Scientists protest against the granting of new oil and gas production licences in the United Kingdom, near Parliament House, in central London, September 4, 2023 © Adrian DENNIS / AFP

It is a "morally obscene" decision, said Caroline Lucas, ecologist MP, on X (ex-Twitter). "It won't improve energy security or reduce bills, but it will break our climate commitments and demolish the UK's position as a global pioneer" in climate transition, she said.

Plethora of new permits

The Scottish government is concerned that "the majority of what is extracted from Rosebank goes abroad and does not stay in Scotland or the United Kingdom," responded the First Minister of the region Humza Yousaf on X (ex-Twitter).

"We recognise the significant contribution" of hydrocarbons to Scotland, but "our future lies not in unlimited oil and gas extraction but in accelerating our just transition to renewable energy," he insisted.

Oil and gas in the North © Sea Jean-Michel CORNU, Sylvie HUSSON / AFP

Between a plethora of new oil and gas exploration permits and an offshore wind crisis, clouds are gathering over the UK's carbon neutrality pledges, as the war in Ukraine has put energy security back at London's top of mind.

"We are investing in our renewable energies" but "we will need oil and gas in the transition to carbon neutrality and it is therefore logical to use our own supplies" in the North Sea, Energy Minister Claire Coutinho said on Wednesday.

Mr. Sunak notably announced a week ago the postponement of five years, to 2035, of the ban on the sale of new thermal cars, and postponed the ban on oil, LPG or coal boilers to "give more time" according to him to the British suffering from the cost of living crisis.

He had already drawn criticism from environmental associations, companies or industry associations, and politicians even in his own camp.

Equinor and Ithaca announced in separate statements a $3.8 billion investment in the proposed exploitation of the field located off the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland.

The Norwegian owns 80% of the Rosebank project, Ithaca the remaining 20%. Production is expected to start in 2026-2027.

The oil field's resources are estimated at about 300 million barrels of oil, and Phase 1 of the project launched Wednesday alone calls for about 245 million barrels. The field will also produce gas.

The project "will allow us to strengthen our position as an important energy partner of the United Kingdom, while optimizing our oil and gas portfolio and increasing energy supply in Europe," said Geir Tungesvik, an official of Equinor, quoted in the statement of the group.

Beyond energy production, it will also allow "substantial" economic benefits for the country, says Gilad Myerson, executive chairman of Ithaca Energy, in the company's statement.

Ithaca's stock was up 7.54% on the London Stock Exchange around 09:35 GMT to 175.51 pence while Equinor rose 1.20% to 350.80 Norwegian kroner on the Oslo Stock Exchange.

© 2023 AFP