It is quite right that the Prime Minister has chosen to approve new licences for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea, in spite of the bitter reaction from climate activists, the Labour party – and some of his own MPs.
Chris Skidmore, who just recently completed a review of net zero policies on behalf of the government, said this week that the decision to award new licences ‘is on the wrong side of the future economy that will be founded on renewable and clean industries and not fossil fuels’.
Yet the Prime Minister is not retrenching on investment in renewable energy; he is hedging the government’s bets. While wind and solar already play a large role in electricity generation in Britain, their contribution to the United Kingdom’s total energy needs remains in single figures. It is certain that fossil fuels will remain a large part of the nation’s energy mix in the short to medium term, and far from certain that they will not continue to do so in the longer term without compromising efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions.
The technology which would make long-term fossil fuel consumption acceptable – carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) – has not yet been proven viable. Further technological breakthroughs are needed for sufficiently large quantities of carbon dioxide to be taken from the exhaust streams of power stations. But CCUS is a lot more established than many of the technologies that we will require to reach net zero, having been used by the oil and gas industry for half a century.
If CCUS can be scaled-up and rolled out across industry it would make the job of decarbonising many sectors, such as steel and cement production, a lot easier. That