AN EMINENT academic who has worked with the UK offshore industries for the past 40 years has rubbished claims by Rishi Sunak that increasing gas and oil production will decrease consumer bills.

Edinburgh University Professor Stuart Haszeldine also told the Sunday National that the Prime Minister was wrong to state that the UK had the lowest carbon cost of oil and gas extraction.

And he warned that the environmental consequences of extracting more oil and gas from the North Sea would be “dire”.

Last week Sunak pledged to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves when he unveiled a plan to authorise more than 100 new North Sea drilling licences.

This is despite the International Energy Agency warning two years ago that no new developments of fossil fuels should go ahead if the world is to limit global temperature increases to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The IEA report was at the request of the UK Government ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Sunak also announced funding for the Aberdeenshire Acorn Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) project but Professor Haszeldine (pictured), an expert on carbon storage, said Sunak’s “huge and ignorant mistake” was to think this mitigated the CO2 emitted from the burning of oil and gas which is driving the greenhouse effect and global warming.

The National: Stuart Haszeldine.

“The announcement on Monday attempted to imply that the 100 licences would be offset by CO2 storage from CCS,” he said. “That’s not true. The arithmetic does not balance.

“Production of new oil and gas could occur only if there is an arithmetic balance of one tonne of carbon extracted, balanced by one tonne of carbon stored,” he said.

“That can indeed be achieved by CCS – but it needs three to four times the four CCS projects already announced around the UK to be fully operating and storing additional CO2 which does not already exist in their design proposals (including Acorn from St Fergus).”

Professor Haszeldine said neither North Sea oil nor gas production makes any difference to the price of consumer bills, which are pinned to the international market price for oil and for gas.

“PM Sunak was incorrect in stating this will decrease consumer bills. He was also incorrect to state that the UK has the lowest carbon cost spent on getting oil or gas out the ground. Norway is routinely half or quarter of UK carbon energy expenditure.

“Looking forward, the 100 licences announced by PM Sunk will likely have much greater energy needs to extract because they are heavy oil, small accumulations, geologically complex and, in several cases, a long distance from core areas with pipeline transport infrastructure. The energy penalty to produce oil or gas needs to be calculated on a field-by-field basis.”

Professor Alexander Kemp of Aberdeen University said the implications of the new licensing policy had been put in “rather dramatic” terms by Sunak as it was not clear how much difference they would make to UK oil and gas production.

“They are not going to change the picture of long-term decline in North Sea production, both oil and gas,” he said.

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) calculates that there are six billion barrels of UK North Sea oil and gas remaining to be produced from a combination of existing fields (the biggest contributor), undeveloped discoveries and future discoveries. Around 40 billion barrels have already been extracted.

Green MSP Maggie Chapman said: “The climate crisis is the biggest crisis that we will ever face.

“The consequences of inaction or reckless and damaging decisions like the Tory plans for 100 new oil and gas exploration licences will be utterly catastrophic.

“We cannot drill and burn our way to a sustainable future. What we need is a major and generation-defining investment in renewables. This is not just vital to ensuring a cleaner climate, but also to create good and sustainable jobs that offer security, opportunity and fulfilment.

“We can have an economy based on clean energy, good jobs and healthy communities. Scotland has a huge green potential. We should be focusing on investing in this potential and delivering a genuine just transition away from fossil fuels, that has workers and communities at its heart.”