A SHETLAND councillor has said the approval of drilling at Rosebank oil field feels like a “kick in the teeth” as he claimed support for transitioning to renewables is “gaining major traction” in the isles.

Alex Armitage said while oil and gas has been part of Shetland’s culture for half a century - admitting the region had done “very well” out of it - he insisted the decision to approve Rosebank has been much harder to swallow for many locals than it would have been years ago.

He added many more people are seeing and accepting the huge benefits Shetland can reap from producing wind energy.  

The UK Government approved drilling at Rosebank – which lies about 80 miles north west of Shetland – in September, with Rishi Sunak insisting it was the “right long-term decision” for energy security.

However, the Government is facing legal action from campaign groups over the move.

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Green councillor Armitage told The National many locals had been up in arms over the enormous Viking Wind Farm development in Shetland, but most accepted it in the end knowing it was necessary for the climate.

On the back of that, he insisted having to play host to fossil fuel infrastructure felt like a “kick in the teeth”.

Armitage (below) told The National: “Ten years ago this probably would have been welcomed with open arms but in the last few years, the idea we need to transition away from oil and gas is starting to gain major traction in the isles.

“This is a much more controversial issue than it used to be. Shetland has done very well out of oil and gas for 50 years and it’s part of our culture, but that culture is starting to change.

“There is a great desire from people in Shetland to move as quickly as possible with the future energy industry and anyone who understands climate science will feel disappointed we are taking a step in the wrong direction.

The National:

“People have seen Shetland is hosting a huge 103-wind turbine farm. A lot of people have begrudgingly accepted it because they realise that it’s needed in order to produce future energy at a low carbon cost.

“But having accepted this, seeing the development of huge amounts of new fossil fuel infrastructure in the community does feel like a kick in the teeth.”

On Wednesday, the Shetland Times reported Lerwick Harbour would become the main marine support hub for Norwegian company Equinor’s first phase of development of the oil and gas field – which lies about 80 miles north-west of Shetland.

Subsea production systems, umbilicals, risers and flowlines manufactured by contractor TechnipFMC will be delivered, stored and mobilised at the port while local supply chains will support Equinor and its contractors.

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But that’s if the development goes ahead, with the UK Government facing legal action over the approval of the field.

Campaign group Uplift claim the Energy Secretary failed to show how Rosebank – one of the largest untapped oil reserves in UK waters – aligns with the Government’s net-zero plan for 2050.

In a separate case, Greenpeace said the approval process did not consider the pollution that would come from burning the oil once produced and that the project itself would be too damaging for marine wildlife.

Captain Calum Grains, chief executive of Lerwick Port Authority, said it was a “significant opportunity" for Lerwick and Shetland to continue serving the energy sector and was an “excellent example” of the offshore industry countering climate change “while helping to secure the UK’s energy supplies enroute to net zero”.

But Armitage said while the port may stand to benefit, the environmental cost is far too high, especially when Shetland has so much potential for wind resources.

He added: “This is an example of Shetland benefitting from the energy industry but my argument would be we need to be hastening the transition over to renewables.

“Shetland is slap bang in the middle of the best wind resources in the northern hemisphere. We need to be getting on and developing this and Shetland will be very well placed to benefit from the development of that industry in the future.

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“I don’t think we need this extra industry in Shetland. We already have almost full employment in the isles. The port authority is going to do well out of this if it does go ahead, but at what cost?

“I would argue that cost is too great.”

Armitage hit out at arguments Rosebank is needed for energy security given what it produces will be sold at world market prices, Equinor has confirmed.

Equinor is also in line for a massive £2.8 million tax break, campaigners have claimed, thanks to a loophole in UK windfall tax.

Armitage went on: “The arguments that have been made by Rishi Sunak and others in the oil and gas industry that we somehow need these resources for our national domestic energy security fall apart as soon as you scratch the surface.

“It’s clear this oil is being sold on the international market is not going to help us domestically with our energy security.

“The UK Government is giving a massive tax cut to Equinor to develop this field too. We are haemorrhaging benefits and money left right and centre with this field.

“I do feel we’re at stage now where we can have ambition to leave those fossil fuels in the ground.”