New North Sea oil gas licenses threaten marine protection areas

A joint investigation into the UK Government’s controversial plans to allow a raft of new offshore fossil fuel projects has found 40% fall within area supposed to be off limits. 

green and brown coral reef

NGOs Oceana and Uplift analysed the locations of potential new oil and gas developments in the North Sea, with the organisations’ report concluding a high probability of damage to some of the country’s most vulnerable and vital marine ecosystems. 

The North Norfolk Coast Special Protected Area, The Wash and North Norfolk Coast Special Area of Conservation, Shetland’s Foula Special Protected Area, Liverpool Bay Special Protected Area, and Southern North Sea Special Protected Area are among those thought to be most at risk. Potential threats include major oil spillages, higher frequency small spills, microplastics and seabed habitat destruction.

The report suggests deep-sea sponge communities and ancient coral reefs in particular could be completely destroyed in some cases. While any new licenses that can impact protected areas must undergo Environmental Impact Assessment before receiving final approval, earlier this year a study by the Leave It In The Ground Initiative revealed the UK has more fossil fuel sites in protected areas than any other country on the world. 

The decision to confirm new gas and oil licenses has already been met with dismay from climate-friendly politicians and activists alike. The UK has signed up to the Global Ocean Alliance, which stipulates 30% of the world’s seas must be safeguarded from human activity hby 2030 through a network of marine protected areas, and new developments stand to hinder progress in this area.

Conservative MP Chris Skidmore – who earlier this year published a damning report on Britain’s net zero progress – described the new licenses as moving the country in ‘the wrong decision at precisely the wrong time, when the rest of the world is experiencing record heatwaves… It is on the wrong side of modern voters… and it is on the wrong side of history, that will not look favourably on the decision taken today.’

‘There is no public gain from these new licences, only more profit for oil and gas companies. Whatever is extracted, and it is likely to be mainly oil for export and even then not for years, will do nothing to lower UK energy bills and next to nothing for UK energy security,’ added Tessa Khan, Executive Director at Uplift.

‘When you then factor in the harm that these new licences could cause the UK’s marine environment, and the amazing creatures that depend on it, this seems like a particularly destructive act by the government, which has pledged to protect our seas,’ she continued. ‘British waters have already experienced record-breaking marine heatwaves this summer, driven by climate change, and yet this government seems hell bent on pouring even more fuel on the fire.’

More on North Sea oil and gas:

UK ‘greenwashing oil and gas’ with Scotland Acorn CCS approval

Greece burns, Antarctica thaws, UK Government ‘pays arsonists’


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