The UK government presented the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill to Parliament with the aim of enhancing the country’s economy, ensuring energy security, and facilitating the transition to a net-zero future. Under this legislation, there will be annual rounds of oil and gas licencing, with a focus on rigorous emissions and imports assessments.

Ensuring the UK’s energy security and economic stability, the domestic oil and gas sector plays a crucial role. The implementation of consistent exploration licencing is set to bring about greater predictability, bolster investor confidence, and enhance the nation’s energy self-sufficiency. This revamped system hinges on meeting two critical criteria: the projection that the UK will continue to be a net importer of oil and gas, and that the carbon emissions linked to UK gas production must be lower than the average emissions from imported liquefied natural gas.

Backing ongoing production within the UK not only lessens dependence on higher-emission imports but also highlights the environmental advantage, as domestic gas production boasts just a quarter of the carbon footprint associated with imported liquefied natural gas.

The oil and gas sector is a significant contributor to the UK’s economic landscape, sustaining approximately 200,000 jobs and injecting £16 billion into the economy each year. Moreover, fossil fuel producers are anticipated to contribute around £50bn in taxes over the next five years.

Beyond its economic contributions, the sector is actively contributing to the UK’s pursuit of the net-zero target by leveraging existing supply chains, expertise, and crucial skills. These assets play a pivotal role in advancing low-carbon industries like tidal power, offshore wind, and carbon capture and storage.

Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Claire Coutinho said: “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 after 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.”

Despite the government’s efforts to amplify domestic clean energy from sources like offshore wind and nuclear, the UK’s energy landscape still hinges on oil and gas. This reliance is expected to persist in the coming decades, as indicated by data from the independent Climate Change Committee, extending beyond 2050.

To fortify domestic energy provisions, the new Bill mandates the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), the independent regulator for oil and gas, to orchestrate annual oil and gas licensing rounds. This initiative invites applications for new production licenses in the UK’s offshore waters, ensuring a strategic approach to sustainably meeting the country’s energy needs.