Oil and Gas Exploration Licences

– in the Scottish Parliament on 21st September 2022.

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Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

3. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is regarding the impact in Scotland of the reported plans of the United Kingdom Government to grant up to 130 new oil and gas exploration licences. (S6T-00873)

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Oil and gas exploration and production, including licensing, remain reserved to the UK Government. The Scottish Government is clear that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is not consistent with our climate obligations if we are to meet our target of 1.5° under the Paris agreement, and it is not the right solution to the cost of living crisis that families are facing. Instead of licensing more fossil fuel extraction, the UK Government should be encouraging investment in renewables and supporting a just transition for our energy sector and for Scottish households and businesses.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

In her first week in Downing Street, Liz Truss has taken a wrecking ball to climate commitments. The UK Government is again pretending that it can drill its way out of the energy crisis, while the world is facing unimaginable suffering from climate breakdown. From Liz Truss’s installation of a fossil fuel fanatic as her energy secretary to her making no reference to climate in her first speech on energy, this is climate denial at its worst.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the development of the Rosebank oil field, alongside Cambo and Jackdaw, undermines both the Paris agreement and the Glasgow pact and will do nothing to reduce the energy bills that people are facing?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The focus at the moment is on tackling the cost of living crisis that many households face as a result of increasing energy costs; increasing extraction of oil and gas in the North Sea will not address that issue—that is not my comment but that of the United Kingdom Government. Kwasi Kwarteng, the former UK energy secretary, who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer, made such a point during a debate in the House of Commons earlier this year.

The way to tackle the underlying causes that are driving household and non-domestic energy bills at the moment is to decarbonise our energy system and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. In doing that, we reduce our potential risk when it comes to the malign forces of people such as Putin in the future. Renewable energy is the most effective way to do that and deliver not only cheaper energy for domestic and non-domestic users but energy security. We in Scotland can benefit from that approach, through acceleration of renewable energy projects.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Yesterday, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, called on countries to

“tax the windfall profits” of oil and gas companies, to support people who are struggling with the costs crisis and to support communities that are suffering immense loss and damage from climate change, around the world. Does the cabinet secretary agree with his proposal?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

At a time when households face such high energy bills, which are driving millions of households into fuel poverty and extreme fuel poverty, the focus is on the need to do whatever we can, not only to reduce the financial burden on households in the here and now but to prevent the burdening of households with increased fuel costs in the future. That is the risk of the approach that the UK Government is taking through the announcements that it has made to date on tackling the cost of living crisis.

The focus should be on taxing the windfall profits, particularly of energy companies, which are making sizeable profits, and using that money to offset the costs on households. It is estimated that energy companies will make in the region of £170 billion over the next two years alone. A windfall tax could offset the cost of energy in people’s homes today. The UK Government should introduce that, rather than burden household bills with additional costs in the future, which is what will happen under the approach that it is taking.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the UK Government should heed Alok Sharma, former UK secretary of state and president of the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26? He said:

“Climate and environmental security are now synonymous with energy and national security.”

Does the cabinet secretary also agree that Scotland’s great asset of a combined energy sector means that sensible use of existing domestic oil and gas licences during the energy transition, subject to climate analysis, and investment in renewable energy growth, including green hydrogen exports, will provide more energy security to us and to our European partners, who desperately want a green energy supply and security from hostile actors, than will be provided by the UK Government agreeing 130 new, long-term licences without climate impact analysis?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I agree with COP26 president Alok Sharma, who also said:

“Countries now understand the benefits of low-cost, homegrown renewables, the price of which cannot be manipulated from afar.”—[

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He recognises that renewable energy is the quickest, cheapest and most environmentally friendly approach to tackling our energy crisis, while delivering energy security.

Scotland is rich with the natural assets to deliver that, not just to meet our domestic needs in Scotland and the rest of the UK but to support the decarbonisation of energy in other parts of Europe. Whether it is onshore or offshore wind, carbon capture, utilisation and storage, battery storage or hydroelectric, all of it can contribute to our energy transition, and Scotland has the natural benefits that can maximise such resources. That is why it is critical that, in the early days of this new UK Government, we see an approach that is consistent with the need to drive forward renewable energy, to help to reduce energy costs overall.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Mark Ruskell strangely forgot to mention that Guterres also said:

“fossil fuels cannot be shut down overnight. A just transition means leaving no person or country behind.”

Without new investment in fields such as Cambo and Jackdaw and without political support from the Scottish Government, production will fall off a cliff, jeopardising the just transition and the 90,000 Scottish jobs that will deliver it, which will make us reliant on environmentally worse imports from regimes such as Putin’s. Has the Scottish Government assessed the financial, economic and environmental impacts of its plans to abandon our oil and gas sector? If so, will that be published?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Let me try to deal with the facts. We have been consistent in our approach, which is that we should transition away from our dependency on fossil fuels in order to reduce our risk of exposure to malign forces such as Putin. That approach is agreed by the UK Government. I am making the point that the failure of the UK Government is in not driving forward the policies that will deliver on that approach. We need to ramp up our production of renewable energy and development of other forms of renewable resources, onshore and offshore, to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

As I have consistently said in the chamber and, I think, to Liam Kerr, our oil and gas sector will continue to play an important part in our economy, but we need to ramp up our renewables development, which will help to reduce our overall costs. The impression that some try to give that simply by extracting more oil and gas we can in some way reduce our energy costs is seriously wrong. The reality is that that will not happen, but that is the impression that the UK Government has tried to give with its announcement over the past few days. That approach simply will not work, because all the evidence demonstrates that it will not deliver the output that is needed.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

The approach of the UK Government and the Scottish Conservatives is worrying and wrong-headed. What can the Scottish Government do to make sure that our planning system is robust and fit for purpose? If we are going to see new offshore oil and gas developments such as Cambo, Jackdaw and Rosebank, what can we do to make sure that our planning system is robust? There will be a requirement for onshore assets and infrastructure. What can we do to frustrate the process if necessary?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Most of the licences for new fields that are issued nowadays are tiebacks into existing oil and gas infrastructure that comes onshore so, by and large, there are no planning provisions for the Scottish ministers and the Scottish Government to be involved in. The licensing of exploration and production rests solely with the UK Government.

I believe that we should be deciding such policies here in the Scottish Parliament, given their importance to our natural environment and our future fuel security but, as it stands in relation to oil and gas production, there are often no planning requirements in the process for the Scottish ministers to be involved with.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes topical question time. The next item of business is portfolio question time.