The Rosebank offshore development off Shetland has been granted consent by regulators. Located some 80 miles west of Shetland, Rosebank is the UK’s largest untapped oil field and is estimated to contain 500 million barrels of oil.
Development and production approval has been given to owners Equinor and Ithaca Energy, following reassurances over environmental concerns. The plan has faced widespread criticism due to its impact on climate change.
Supporters of the project say it is vital for the energy security as it will reduce reliance on imports. And Gilad Myerson, the executive chairman of Ithaca Energy, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, it will create more than 1,600 jobs and provide “a significant amount of tax revenues for the treasury”.
It comes after the UK government said in July that it would issue hundreds of new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. However, last month 50 MPs and peers from all major parties raised concerns Rosebank could produce 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. They wrote to then Energy Secretary Grant Shapps urging him to block the oil field, adding that most of the cost of development would be shouldered by the taxpayer.
The oil and gas regulator, North Sea Transition Authority, said approval had been awarded “in accordance with our published guidance and taking net zero considerations into account throughout the project’s lifecycle”.
Drilling is expected to start in 2025, and production in 2026/27 but a senior Equinor executive, Arne Gürtner, has admitted the new field will not be electrified at that point.
Electrification of the extraction process is one of the key industry pledges for reducing its production emissions.
It has been predicted that Rosebank – located 80 miles of west of Shetland – could produce 69,000 barrels of oil a day at its peak, and about 44 million cubic feet of gas per day in its first 10 years.
The UK government welcomed the decision and said it has been subject to extensive scrutiny by the regulators, including undergoing a detailed environmental impact assessment and a public consultation before being approved.
Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said: “We are investing in our world-leading renewable energy but, as the independent climate change committee recognise, we will need oil and gas as part of that mix on the path to net zero and so it makes sense to use our own supplies from North Sea fields such as Rosebank.
“The jobs and billions of pounds this is worth to our economy will enable us to have greater energy independence, making us more secure against tyrants like (Vladimir) Putin.
“We will continue to back the UK’s oil and gas industry to underpin our energy security, grow our economy and help us deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner energy.”