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Former BP boss calls for end to new North Sea drilling licences

Former BP boss calls for end to new North Sea drilling licences


The former boss of BP John Browne has appeared to back a key Labour energy policy by calling for an end to new North Sea oil and gas drilling licences.

The oil industry veteran, who was known as the Sun King when he ran the oil company between 1995 and 2007, said an important test for the UK’s political parties before next month’s general election was whether they have “serious plans for the country’s green energy transition”.

He urged the next government to “call a halt” to new North Sea oil and gas projects to “reinforce our intention to get to net zero and show timely leadership”.

His comments in the Financial Times are likely to be viewed as an implicit endorsement of the Labour party which has promised to end new oil and gas exploration, while the Conservative party has backed annual licensing rounds to “max out” the UK’s ageing oil basin. However, he suggested Britain should not aim for self-sufficiency on energy, and instead buy its oil and gas more cheaply abroad.

Lord Browne said that the UK was likely to need oil and gas “for many years to come” and should allow existing North Sea fossil fuel projects to continue.

“But beyond this, we should call a halt,” wrote the crossbench peer. “Such a move will reinforce our intention to get to net zero and show timely leadership. It is also hard to believe that finding and developing the very limited oil and gas resources that remain will be economic – or cost less – than buying supplies from the world market if needed,” Browne added.

The comment appears to rebuff claims from the Conservative party that supporting further exploration of the North Sea will bolster the UK’s energy security and help to reduce gas bills. The claims have also been widely discredited by energy experts.

The shadow climate secretary, Ed Miliband, said: “Lord Browne’s intervention adds his voice to the chorus of energy experts, including the International Energy Agency and the Climate Change Committee, who make clear that new oil and gas licences are not the right choice for Britain.

“The only way to boost our energy security, strengthen our economy, protect our climate and ensure long-term, good jobs here in Britain is by managing existing licences while sprinting to develop the clean energy industries of the future.”

Labour is also planning to toughen the government’s existing windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas profits, the proceeds of which will help to fund a publicly owned green energy company. GB Energy will have an initial capitalisation of £8.3bn over the length of the parliament to help scale up new green technologies and community energy projects.

Browne, who pivoted from fossil fuels to set up a climate investing venture at General Atlantic in 2021, said the revenue from the UK’s remaining oil and gas production should be used to “accelerate the transition”.

“That means more investment in wind and solar, and in infrastructure, including long-term storage, that can bring those supplies to market,” he added.

Read the latest issue of the OGV Energy magazine HERE

Published: 10-06-2024

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