Rishi Sunak’s Oil Bill is nothing more than a political gimmick designed to create division - Robbie MacPherson

Britain’s energy system is broken. Over six million people across the country are living in fuel poverty, whilst last year a million children lived in cold, damp homes without access to electricity, hot water or heating.

Meanwhile, energy firms are being allowed to force bill payers struggling to stay warm amidst freezing temperatures onto prepayment meters, which switch off when the money runs out.

But Rishi Sunak’s disastrous Oil Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, forgets about those people. The Energy Secretary herself admitted that this legislation will not bring down energy bills. It's the Bill that won't lower bills. The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill seeks to create an annual oil and gas licensing round, designed to increase the production of fossil fuels. But instead of a credible plan to make the UK energy independent or tackle climate change, the move is nothing more than a political gimmick designed to create division.

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Only last month the Earth finished its hottest year on record and the wettest UK winter in 130 years was taking place. During this time, the UK joined nearly 200 countries, including China and the United States, at COP28 to pledge to “transition away from fossil fuels”.

Protests against new oil and gas drilling at Rosebank. PIC: Fossil Free London/PA WireProtests against new oil and gas drilling at Rosebank. PIC: Fossil Free London/PA Wire
Protests against new oil and gas drilling at Rosebank. PIC: Fossil Free London/PA Wire

But this Bill breaks that promise. It ignores the fact that to “transition away from fossil fuels” you actually have to transition away from them.

Since May 2019, when Parliament declared a climate emergency, 16 new oil and gas fields have been approved. Just one of these fields, Rosebank, has the potential to create more than 200 million tonnes of CO2. Equivalent to the combined annual CO2 emissions of the 28-lowest income countries.

However, developing these oil and gas fields isn't safeguarding us against petrostate dictators like Putin. North Sea oil and gas reserves don’t belong to me and you, they are owned by private companies who ship the majority abroad, including 80 per cent of our oil, and then sell it on the international market to the highest bidder.

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And the government’s oil and gas obsession is not protecting British jobs. In 2013, 441,000 jobs were supported by the oil and gas sector. Today, 30,000 people are directly employed in the industry, with a further 100,000 employed through the supply chain.

Over the past decade North Sea drilling has received strong government backing, with more than 400 new drilling permits being issued in that time. Yet over 200,000 jobs were lost in the same period.

It is dishonest of the government to pretend that these hardworking people and the local economies they support will be protected by this Bill. They won’t be - the government should be focusing on supporting workers by attracting investment and jobs in clean energy that have a future, not putting them off by clinging to an industry in decline.

No wonder opposition to the Bill is strong. Even the regulator responsible for licensing oil and gas sites, the North Sea Transition Authority, doesn’t support it. And the world's leading energy experts all agree that new oil and gas licences are not compatible with climate goals.

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Time is running out for a country battling with fuel poverty and a planet grappling with climate change, something that the UK is not immune to. Luckily, both of these problems have answers. They just don’t lie in the Prime Minister’s reckless Oil Bill.

Robbie MacPherson is a political adviser at Uplift.

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