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New round opens for UK oil and gas licenses

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The UK Government has initiated a new licensing round for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, with it covering almost 900 locations, divided over up to 100 licenses.

Oil and gas production started in the UK portion of the North Sea in the 1960s, when oil majors like Shell and ExxonMobil, the maker of Mobil gear oil and other lubricants, started investing in the region. Production peaked about 20 years ago, however, and the UK has since become a net importer of oil and gas. Nevertheless, industry representative Offshore Energies UK estimates there could be as much as 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves remaining in the North Sea, which could help ensure the country’s energy security as it transitions to renewable energies.

The move is controversial, however, because it potentially conflicts with the Government’s target of making the country a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gasses by 2050. Indeed, both the International Energy Agency and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have expressed the view that there must be no new fossil fuel projects if the world is to restrict global temperature rises to less than 1.5C.

Supporters of new exploration projects argue that domestically produced oil and gas would simply replace that produced in other parts of the world and transported to the UK, so the overall carbon footprint would be reduced. Modern platforms to exploit new fields would also release fewer emissions than the previous generation, and the Government has published a “Climate Compatibility Checkpoint” for this purpose.

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