THE Scottish Government has been challenged to publicly oppose the controversial Rosebank oil field amid expectations that it will be given the go-ahead.

A decision on whether to allow drilling at the oil and gas field off Shetland is expected imminently after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told MPs it makes “absolutely no sense” to become dependent on overseas imports.

Capable of producing up to 500 million barrels of oil, Norwegian state-owned energy firm Equinor owns the licence and is awaiting a final decision from the UK Government after a licensing round for production projects in the North Sea was opened up by Westminster.

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) and the United Nations, as well as scientists and campaigners, have warned there should be no new investment or production of oil and gas if the world hopes to reduce global temperatures or reach net zero targets by 2050.

And now, Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland have urged Scottish ministers to speak out against Rosebank, while revealing the extent that the Norwegian state-owned firm has lobbied Scottish parliamentarians.

“To avoid catastrophic climate breakdown, and do our fair share globally, we must phase out oil and gas in this decade,” Freya Aitchison, FoE Scotland campaigner said.

“First Minister Humza Yousaf has the chance to chart a new path away from fossil fuels without the industry trying to call the shots.

The National: Rosebank was raised during PMQs earlier in the weekRosebank was raised during PMQs earlier in the week (Image: PA)

“If his government is serious about tackling the climate crisis and delivering a just transition, it must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry and ban them from lobbying.”

It comes after First Minister Humza Yousaf said that the decision on Rosebank should “take into account a number of different factors” at an energy conference in Glasgow on Wednesday.

Figures compiled by FoE Scotland found that from after the 2021 Holyrood election until the end of 2022, Equinor met 13 times with MSPs, five of which were with government ministers.

Meanwhile, oil lobby group Offshore Energies UK, who represent Equinor, met with members of the Scottish Parliament at least 36 times over the last two years.

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Asked for his response to FoE Scotland’s calls following FMQs, and if he would speak out against Rosebank, the FM said: “That’s a decision for the UK Government to make.

“I've made my position clear in terms of what should be considered in relation to any future oil and gas.”

The Scottish Government is due to release an updated version of the draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, published in January this year, the FM’s official spokesperson said when the issue was raised during the post-FMQs briefing.

“We’ve just finished the consultation on this strategy, so we have a large number of responses, and we want time to consider that in detail and then we’ll give a response,” he said.

The decision on Rosebank is reserved to the UK Government, and previously, Nicola Sturgeon’s criticism of the Cambo oil field, also off Shetland, put pressure on the development, with Shell later pulling out.

Asked why the FM appears to be reluctant to make a similar gesture against Rosebank, and if it meant he was favouring industry over climate warnings, the spokesperson said: “He’s set out his position, I can’t go beyond what he’s said.”

Prior to Equinor announcing a formal application to develop Rosebank, which emerged in August 2022, the Norwegian firm pursued meetings with eight MSPs in the North East and Shetland, FoE Scotland said.

The 2022 Cross Party Group on Oil and Gas, chaired by Offshore Energies UK, was attended by six MSPs, with the group listing among its aims encouraging “greater recognition of the importance of the oil and gas industry to Scotland”.

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FoE’s Aitchison said that the group’s research was an example of the “insidious power” Equinor and others have over decision making in Scotland.

“The scale and reach of the Equinor lobbying operation designed to influence the Scottish Government should be extremely alarming to anyone who takes the climate crisis seriously,” she added.

“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has denied and delayed the need for real climate action, and it is clear that it has significant means to continue doing so.

“Companies like Equinor have too much vested interest in continuing business as usual and cannot be trusted to play a meaningful part in a transition away from fossil fuels.”

Equinor posted £9.5 billion in pre-tax profits for the first three months of 2023, in addition to the £62 billion in profits before tax for 2022.

“The Scottish Government must remain steadfast in its commitment to a presumption against any new oil and gas exploration,” Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said, following FMQs where the issue was also raised.

“Whether it’s Rosebank today or other proposals to drill tomorrow, we need to stop the climate vandalism and end our dependence on fossil fuels.”