Media briefing: Labour’s proposal to stop new oil and gas

Several myths are in circulation around Labour’s policy to end North Sea oil and gas exploration. These are the facts.


Labour has confirmed they would end new domestic oil and gas developments, a policy heralded as absolutely crucial if we are to meet the objective of the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C.

The International Energy Agency, the UN Secretary General and Conservative MPs Chris Skidmore and Alok Sharma, are all in line with the mainstream view from the IPCC that adding new reserves, whether in the UK or anywhere else, will push us closer to parts of our world becoming uninhabitable.

Existing fossil fuel infrastructure will already create enough emissions to push us past safe climate limits without further new development. Despite these facts, several myths are in circulation around Labour’s policy to end North Sea oil and gas exploration.

Fact: drilling in the North Sea will not lead to greater energy security

  • It takes decades for newly licensed oil and gas projects to extract fuel, on average 28 years, according to the North Sea Transition Authority’s own figures, so any new licences will do nothing to increase energy security now. Renewables take less than a third of the time to develop.
  • More North Sea oil and gas, which companies are free to export, is also not the route to energy security. As we have learned in the last year, North Sea oil and gas won’t protect us from price spikes in international markets, nor will it protect millions of households from being plunged into fuel poverty.
  • Regardless of how much new oil and gas we can realistically bring online in the North Sea, the UK will remain an energy importer. Currently around 80% of UK oil production is exported. A more fruitful approach to reducing energy imports will come from reducing gas demand through things like renewables, insulation and heat pumps.
  • Much of North Sea oil is heavy crude and UK refineries aren’t able to process it. Our refineries are mostly geared up to use lighter, sweeter oils, which is a legacy of having the original Brent oil.

Fact: drilling for more domestic oil and gas will not help our energy bills

  • Even if new licences could somehow be fast-tracked, they won’t help with lowering bills because oil and gas drilled in the UK doesn’t belong to the state. It belongs to the energy companies that own the licences who will sell it at the prevailing international market price, either exporting the oil and gas or selling it back to us with the associated profits.
  • The Government has admitted that it will do nothing for bills on a number of occasions, including former Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, former Energy Minister Greg Hands, former COP President Alok Sharma, and Government advisors in the Climate Change Committee.

Fact: ending new domestic production will not be bad for jobs

  • If no new fields are approved, modelling by Transition Economics shows that with the right policy support, job creation in clean energy industries can exceed the number of displaced oil and gas jobs by more than three-fold.
  • Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Scotland, and Platform surveyed 1,300 offshore workers and 81% said they would consider changing industry, and their top motivation was job security. The oil and gas sector is a notoriously volatile industry and in recent years many workers have lost their jobs or seen their salaries reduced and hours made even more demanding.
  • Oil and gas workers want more investment in domestic manufacturing and assembly of renewables and clear pathways out of high-carbon jobs
  • North Sea oil and gas workers are also being ripped off by an industry whose profits continue to reach extraordinary heights, while they continue to strike over jobs, pay and conditions.

Fact: ending new North Sea oil and gas production would not lead to an overnight shut down

  • Halting new oil and gas production in the North Sea would not lead to an overnight end to oil and gas production in this country, and absolutely no one is calling for that. Current fossil fuel projects already in train and producing would continue to provide oil and gas.
  • There are 649 UK onshore wind and solar projects, which already have planning permission. If they all went ahead, they’d save more gas than we used to import from Russia.
  • The best way to manage a smooth transition for workers in the sector is to start moving their jobs and skills into the renewables sector now. If we want these jobs in the UK, we need to signal that we are serious about the shift away from fossil fuels to renewables, and that means no new oil and gas developments.

Fact: ending new domestic oil and gas is not bad for the economy

  • Although the oil and gas industry might create some economic activity, oil and gas companies are being handed billions in public subsidies to open new North Sea fields, money which ultimately has to be found from other taxes. The Government’s so-called windfall tax includes an £11 billion tax break for new oil and gas fields, at the same time as the industry is making record profits, while doing nothing for our energy security.
  • Rosebank, the UK’s largest undeveloped oil field, is a good example of how badly the UK would be ripped off if it went ahead. The UK public would carry 91% of the costs of developing Rosebank, because its owners will be handed in effect £3.75billion of public money to develop the field, when the vast majority of the oil will be exported and sold on the international market by Norwegian company Equinor for a profit.
  • Green investment can provide a huge boost to the economy, other countries around the world have recognised that, leaving the UK to lag behind in the race on green technology. The US with its landmark Inflation Reduction Act, Europe and China are investing hundreds of billions into the green transition.
  • There is a potential $1trn stranded asset liability for developed country fossil fuel assets, and North Sea fields would be very exposed to this.

Fact: domestic oil and gas production is not better for the climate

  • The International Energy Agency is clear there must be no investment in new oil and gas fields not already in development in 2021 if we’re to stand a chance of meeting the objectives of the Paris agreement. There’s no such thing as oil and gas that’s ‘good’ for the climate. Adding new reserves, whether in the UK or anywhere else, will push us closer to parts of our world becoming uninhabitable. There is wide agreement that there should be no new oil and gas exploration, current projects are already producing more than enough oil to safely transition us away from fossil fuels.
  • The claim is based on calculating the production emissions only, when the overwhelming majority (80%) of emissions from oil and gas come from when it’s consumed. That’s the same if the field is in Saudi Arabia or the North Sea.
  • In terms of production emissions, UK oil rigs are actually among the highest polluting in Europe.

Commenting, Philip Evans, Greenpeace UK’s climate campaigner, said:

“Our message to Keir Starmer is to stand firm. The evidence is clear, new oil and gas would be catastrophic for the climate. And the fact is we need an energy system fit for the future. Labour’s policy is a crucial step towards this.

Experts are clear that we already have more than enough oil to see us through the transition to net zero, the need to end new oil and gas production is a completely mainstream view.

With the right support, job creation in clean energy industries would far exceed the number of old fossil fuel jobs. This would be a huge win for the economy and the planet. We just need politicians with the will to do it.”

Contact: Greenpeace UK Press Office – or 020 7865 8255

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