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A single new oil and gas field in the North Sea would be enough to exceed the UK’s carbon budgets from its operations alone, analysis from campaigning group Uplift shows.

Proposals to develop the Equinor-operated Rosebank oil and gas field, currently the largest undeveloped oilfield in the North Sea, have been in the works for several years.

According to Equinor, if the project is approved by the UK government, subsea installation will commence in 2024. The company said that it “believes the field can be developed as part of the UK Government North Sea Transition Deal [NSTD], bringing much needed energy security and investment in the UK while supporting the UKs net zero target.”

However, activist group Uplift has shown that the likely emissions from oil production alone in the field would be enough to push the UK over its carbon budgets from 2028 onwards. If true, other sectors of the economy would be forced to cut their emissions dramatically, and at an increased speed, to keep the UK within its carbon budgets.

In an analysis of environmental statements provided by Equinor, Uplift found that emissions from Rosebank’s operations alone, excluding any emissions from the burning of the oil and gas it will produce, will reach 5.6m tonnes of CO2. Combined with emissions from current oil and gas fields, this would exceed the UK’s emissions allowance from the sector.

In a letter of evidence to the government, Uplift cited a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III, which found that: “Estimates of future CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructures already exceed remaining cumulative net CO2 emissions in pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C (>50%) with no or limited overshoot (high confidence).”

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Uplift suggests that as a result, “the governance of the UK’s oil and gas sector is incapable of delivering on the UK’s broader climate goals. This can, in part, be explained by the NSTD”.

The continued regular implementation of flaring at oilfields in the North Sea has also drawn criticism this month, with activist groups calling for the UK to follow in the footsteps of nations like Norway, which banned all ‘non-emergency’ flaring in 1972.

“On every level, Rosebank fails”

The conclusions raise further questions over the government’s plans to push ahead with the development of oil and gas despite warnings that the continued use of fossil fuels is incompatible with the 1.5°C climate target.

The UK government recently unveiled its energy security and net-zero strategies, which contain a major gamble on carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a way to continue use of fossil fuels. However, scientists told the Observer that using CCS in this way is a dangerous gamble, and that calling off new oil and gas developments is a far safer route to reaching net-zero.

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, said via the Guardian: “This analysis clearly shows what the government has long known but chosen to ignore: that it is impossible to reconcile approving a huge new oilfield like Rosebank with the UK meeting its climate obligations.”

“Ministers also know that approving Rosebank will do nothing to lower UK fuel bills and will do very little for UK energy security as most of these reserves will likely be exported. On every level, including legally, Rosebank fails,” she added.

Grant Shapps, secretary of state for energy security and net-zero, defended the continued expansion of oil and gas. This comes after 700 scientists last week signed a letter asking the government to halt new development.

A spokesperson from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said: “We are on track to deliver our carbon budgets, creating jobs and investment across the UK while reducing emissions. Our carbon budget delivery plan is a dynamic long-term plan for a transition that will take place over the next 15 years, setting us on course to reach net zero by 2050.”