THE UK Government is set to ramp up oil and gas extraction with new plans to hold annual licencing rounds – in a “final raid” on Scotland’s fossil fuels.

Invites will be issued every year under new plans to be set out in the King’s Speech on Tuesday in a bid to increase domestic production and wean the UK off foreign fuels.

But the move will infuriate green campaigners who argue the UK must reduce its reliance on polluting fossil fuels and focus more on renewables.

And the SNP have accused the UK Government of exploiting “Scotland's natural resources”.

The UK Government argue home-grown fossil fuels are cleaner than imports from abroad and say polluting energy sources must still be exploited in the move to net zero carbon emissions.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak accused of ‘climate crime' over new oil and gas licences

Under the new plans, the North Sea Transition Authority will invite applications for new production licenses every year which the UK Government said would provide greater “certainty and confidence” for businesses and investors.

But they will only take place if two tests are met. The first is that the UK must that year be projected to use more foreign oil and gas than resources from Britain.

Secondly, it must be shown that the emissions caused by using UK resources would be lower than if imported liquefied natural gas was used.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “I am proud that the UK is a world leader in reducing emissions, and of our new plan to transition to net zero without adding undue burdens on households and securing the country’s long-term interest.

“Domestic energy will play a crucial role in the transition to net zero, supporting jobs and economic growth, while also protecting us from the volatility of international markets and diversifying our energy sources.

“The clarity and certainty that our new legislation will provide will help get the country on the right path for the future.”

'Westminster's final raid on Scottish energy' 

Dave Doogan (below), the SNP’s energy spokesperson, said Scots were losing out on a green energy “gold rush” because of the “UK’s dead hand holding Scotland back”.

The National:

He said: “This is not about underpinning the just transition in green energy jobs – it’s simply a final Westminster raid on Scotland’s hydrocarbon resources.

“If the UK showed as much investment in the energies of the future as they do for oil and gas, we would be much further along the energy transition.

“Westminster made a complete mess of their offshore wind auction round five – attracting zero bids – meanwhile from the US to the EU, there is a green renewables gold rush taking place within the UK’s dead hand holding Scotland back.

"That is how you secure jobs for generations to come and that is where growth and our energy future should be.

"The UK Treasury has raked in more than £400 billion from Scotland's natural resources.

“It's high time the Tories gave back as it is becoming increasingly clear that our energy-rich country is being failed by Westminster governments far removed from the needs of the Scottish people, our economy, and our net-zero future.

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"Only with full control over energy can we chart our own course to green growth and net zero because the reality is Scotland has the energy, we just need the power."

'We need net zero assurances'

Alba leader Alex Salmond (below) said “Outright opposition to new development is daft. The UK would end up importing more dirtier hydrocarbons at greater cost and you cannot secure the so-called ‘just transition’ by shutting down the North Sea.

The National: Alex Salmond

“However, the field licence condition for Rosebank could and should have imposed a net zero carbon condition on this field, not as a general industry aspiration, but specifically for this hyper-lucrative field development. This is what should happen for all licenses going forward.

“The development plan for Rosebank already proposed reducing the upstream CO2 footprint by three quarters, by electrification of the platform’s [floating production storage and offloading] power.

“New licenses should be granted by a step up to full field zero, and this can achieved by forcing developers to commit to the development of a carbon capture network as a condition of the go-ahead of oil fields like should have been the case for the large and lucrative 300 million [barrel] Rosebank field.

“Given that Equinor has more practical experience than any other oil company in full-scale carbon capture in the Norwegian sector, it would be totally appropriate to force their investment in carbon capture on this side of the North Sea.

“It would have signposted the way to an accelerated carbon capture development which is the one way that Scotland could make a real difference in reducing not just Scotland’s, but Europe’s carbon footprint.

READ MORE: Rosebank owner posts billions in profits prompting outrage from climate campaigners

“Instead of a coherent energy strategy, we must not all future licenses to be the victim of further missed opportunity played out between a revenue greedy Tory government, a hapless Labour opposition and a Scottish administration influenced by the Greens who are all at sea on energy policy.

“They shout slogans at each other while economic and environmental opportunity is allowed to pass Scotland by.

“In the Scottish referendum, the Better Together coalition told Scotland that there was no oil and gas left in waters around Scotland.

“Now, but nine years later, the UK Government have announced the development of a single oil and gas field with a hydrocarbon value of £30,000 million.

“No one in Scotland should forgive or forget the blatant hypocrisy and lies of the Better Together coalition.”

Industry welcomes move

David Whitehouse, the chief executive officer of the trade association Offshore Energies UK, said: “The UK needs the churn of new licences to manage production decline in line with our maturing basin.

“A predictable licencing process with transparent checks will support the highly skilled people working in the sector, while ensuring the granting of new licences is compatible with energy security and net zero.”

The National: UK Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho

Claire Coutinho (above), the Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary added: “The UK has cut its emissions faster than any of its peers. But as the independent Climate Change Committee acknowledges, we will need oil and gas even as we reach net zero in 2050.

"As energy markets become more unstable it's just common sense to make the most of our own homegrown advantages and use the oil, gas, wind and hydrogen on our doorstep in the North Sea.

“Rather than importing dirtier fuels from abroad, we want to give industry the certainty to invest in jobs here and unlock billions of pounds for our own transition to clean energy."