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UK regulators approve plans for new Rosebank North Sea oilfield

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UK regulators have approved plans for a vast new oilfield in the North Sea, sparking immediate objections from climate campaigners.

The North Sea Transition Authority on Wednesday gave the go-ahead to Norwegian company Equinor to develop its Rosebank oil and gas project, about 80 miles off the coast of Shetland.

The majority state-owned company estimates it will be able to produce about 300mn barrels of oil from the project over its lifetime.

The UK government said it welcomed the decision as Britain “still relies on oil and gas and this will continue over coming decades”.

However, Phil Richards, Greenpeace’s UK climate campaigner, said the decision was “carte blanche to fossil fuel companies to ruin the climate”.

The decision comes one week after prime minister Rishi Sunak diluted policies designed to help the UK meet its targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, saying he wanted to take a more “pragmatic” approach.

He delayed the planned ban on pure petrol and diesel cars, from 2030 to 2035, and said around a fifth of households would be exempt from having to switch from fossil fuels for home heating after 2035.

The move drew concern, including from his own MPs including Sir Alok Sharma, president of the UN’s international COP26 climate change conference when it was hosted by the UK in Glasgow in 2021.

Sharma wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, last week that he was “concerned about fracturing of UK political consensus on climate action”. The Reading West MP said on Wednesday that he did not plan to stand again in the next general election.

Whether to approve new oil and gasfields is a contentious topic in the UK. The ruling Conservative party is continuing to issue new licences, arguing that a domestic industry strengthens energy security and can have a lower carbon footprint than importing fossil fuels.

The opposition Labour party, however, has said it would stop new oil and gas extraction licences because of concern over greenhouse gas emissions, drawing opposition from the GMB Union, one of its largest donors, which is concerned about job losses.

Gilad Myerson, executive chair of Ithaca Energy, Equinor’s minority partner on the Rosebank project, told BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday: “At the moment, the UK is a net importer of both oil and gas.

“The objective is to make sure the emissions per barrel of the oil and gas is the lowest possible — we have the capability to produce oil and gas for our own domestic production at significantly lower [carbon dioxide emissions] per barrel.”

However, Caroline Lucas, Green MP, said: “We know that the climate emergency is getting more and more serious.

“No one is suggesting turning off the taps of oilfields immediately. What we are saying is that locking ourselves in to get more oil and gas at a time when we know we should be phasing it out, is reckless.”

This week, the International Energy Agency repeated its warning, first given in 2021, that no new oil and gasfields were needed if the world was to meet its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

It added that new oil and gasfields faced “major commercial risks” if the required cuts to demand for oil were made, given supplies from existing projects.

Shares in Ithaca Energy rose 8 per cent on Wednesday morning in London, to 176.2p.

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