OIL and gas have a role to play in the UK’s transition to net zero, according to the industry body OGUK, as the country faces a stark choice on energy – investing in the offshore industry to build security and jobs, or rely on other countries for its energy needs.

A report from OGUK published today showed gas imports hit a record high last winter – with the UK having to import 56% of the gas needed to keep homes warm and its power stations running between January and March.

Gas imports were needed because demand rose at the same time as UK production fell – partly due to Covid-19 but also because North Sea gas output is in long-term decline.

However, Mike Tholen, the body’s sustainability director, described the journey to net zero in 2050 as “an exciting time”, in which the North Sea would have a big part to play.

He told an online briefing on its new economic report: “Working together right across the sector and with our energy providers, the North Sea is at the heart of providing 60% of the emissions reduction and decarbonisation the UK will need between now and 2050.

“The opportunity now is exciting, as it will see billions of investment in new energy technologies, as well as continuing activity to meet the energy needs we have in our low carbon way all the way through to 2050 and beyond.”

Tholen said OGUK was looking to invest, even between now and 2030, more than £15 billion in new low carbon energy opportunities to “decarbonise what we do, and to reduce the impact of the use of our products” and help decarbonise, the economy as a whole through carbon storage and unlocking hydrogen.

The report highlighted the fact that, overall, the UK still gets 73% of its total energy from gas and oil, with production from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) providing around 70% of this demand.

It said between now and 2050, half the UK’s energy will still need to come from the two, which support almost 200,000 jobs in 2021.

Renewables met 42% of electricity demand in 2020 but electricity only accounted for 20% of the UK’s total energy use.

OGUK said North Sea oil and gas were essential to manufacturing domestically and internationally for everyday items such as clothes, medicines and smartphones, as well as vehicles and road surfacing.

Chief executive Deirdre Michie added: “We all know that change is needed so the question is how fast we make that change.

“This report shows the reality that cutting off the domestic production of oil and gas faster than we can reduce demand risks leaving us increasingly dependent on other countries that often generate higher emissions.

“Cutting back our greenhouse gas emissions will not be easy, but we will do it faster if we support the companies and people who have the skills to get us there. From energy workers to energy consumers, we all need a managed and fair transition which benefits everyone.

“While the UK continues to use oil and gas, we should make the most of the resources we produce here. The North Sea Transition Deal reduces the need for imported energy, makes us more responsible for our own emissions and supports UK companies and people who are already investing in cleaner energy.”