Science secretary stumbles as she’s pressed on whether new Rosebank oil field will actually benefit UK

27 September 2023, 19:45 | Updated: 28 September 2023, 00:45

Michele Donelan insisted the government remains committed to net zero.
Michele Donelan insisted the government remains committed to net zero. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

Science Secretary Michelle Donelan stumbled when asked to confirm whether the oil produced by the Rosebank field will actually benefit the UK.

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Speaking to LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr, Michelle Donelan fumbled when she was asked whether the new oil produced from the Rosebank field would be fed back into the domestic market.

It comes after the North Sea Transition Authority gave the drilling of the North Atlantic the green light amid the country's transition to green energy.

Quizzed on how the field approval would benefit the UK, Ms Donelan told Andrew Marr: “For one thing it means we’re going to be importing less, which means we’ll be reducing our carbon footprint by up to a quarter.

“It is far better for the economic security, from our energy security point of view, to be producing our own here on our shores, better for the carbon footprint, for jobs in the UK.”

The oil and gas regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), said Rosebank, which lies 80 miles west of Shetland, was approved "in accordance with our published guidance and taking net zero considerations into account throughout the project's lifecycle".

However, Andrew hit back at Ms Donelan as he asked whether the move would actually benefit the UK’s economy security and carbon footprint as some have claimed the new oil would go back into the international oil and gas market, not the UK's.

Protestors against Rosebank
Protestors against Rosebank. Picture: Alamy

She replied: “If we’re producing more on our own shores we’ll be able to import less of it.”

The science secretary also echoed earlier comments by the prime minister as she insisted the drilling of the North Atlantic was necessary to facilitate the transition to renewable energy.

Pressed on how much public money was being spent on the project, Ms Donelan refused to answer as she said she did not have the figures to hand.

“I haven’t got the figures so i’m not going to be drawn on that.

“This announcement will produce hundreds of jobs, we have also said that estimates show it will be a 24 billion pound boost to the UK economy, so a sizeable amount,” she said.

“We have been very clear that we’re absolutely committed to net zero, that isn’t in question, but we have to do that in a way that is proportionate, reasonable, takes people with you, is achievable as well.

“And everybody, including the climate change committee themselves, have said you need oil and gas in that transition.”

Read more: Go-ahead for largest British oil field Rosebank sparks climate backlash

Read more: 'I'll go to my grave never knowing who killed her': Jill Dando's brother fears murdered journalist's case will never be solved

Rosebank will be close close to BP's Clair Ridge development (pictured) which has been in operation since 2018
Rosebank will be close close to BP's Clair Ridge development (pictured) which has been in operation since 2018. Picture: Supplied

It comes after Rishi Sunak wrote on social media platform X: “The Climate Change Committee have said you don’t reach Net Zero by wishing it. As we make the transition to renewables, we will still need oil and gas – it makes sense to use our own supplies such as Rosebank. This is the right long-term decision for the UK’s energy security.”

The decision has divided politicians, as Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf said he was “disappointed” Rosebank had been given the go-ahead, and questioned whether it would increase energy security.

But Scottish Secretary Alister Jack described the decision as “great news.”

It is believed Rosebank contains up to 350 million barrels of oil and Equinor, the Norwegian firm behind the project, says it could produce 69,000 barrels of oil per day - about 8% of the UK’s projected daily output between 2026 and 2030 - and could also produce 44 million cubic feet of gas every day.

And while it is likely to cost £4.1bn to develop,  it could receive a taxpayer-funded subsidy of £3.75bn through tax breaks and the windfall tax loophole.

The companies behind the Rosebank oil field, Ithaca Energy and Equinor, said they had taken their final investment decision to invest 3.8 billion dollars (£3.1 billion) in the project in the first phase of development.

They said that the field is expected to start producing in 2026-2027, with the project supporting around 1,600 at its peak during construction, and long-term will supply around 450 jobs.