The chairman of the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), Tim Eggar, has stressed the importance of maintaining North Sea operations as the world looks to transition away from oil and gas resources. The comments were made at the PROSPEX and PETEX conference in London yesterday.

Pressure to decommission works in the North Sea area is mounting as the Covid-19 pandemic caused a delay in retiring old operations, with only 84 wells decommissioned in the UK in 2020 as compared to a usual 150 per year. UK oil and gas majors are anticipated to channel around £16.6bn into decommissioning these works over the next decade, representing some 1.2 million tonnes of old installations.

At the recent conference however, Eggar also said that continuing to invest in exploration and production in the region would be an important means of satisfying domestic power needs as nations look at ways of achieving their net-zero targets.

“Oil and gas currently provide around three quarters of total UK energy consumption,” Eggar told attendees. “All forecasts, including the independent Climate Change Committee – point to them being required for heat, power, and transportation for the foreseeable future.

“If we need to be reminded of their importance to daily life, we only have to look back a matter of weeks, when we saw long queues at petrol stations and a gas crisis that brought the prospect of higher gas bills for millions of consumers. Security of supply is back in vogue – not before time.

“Our own analyses show domestic gas production has less than half the carbon footprint of imported LNG. In fact, we can produce gas with a lower carbon footprint than almost all other producing countries. So, it really makes no sense to be more reliant than we need to be on imports – particularly from countries with less to no commitment to reducing their emissions.”

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He also went on to say that the UK should be looking to make the most of its carbon capture and storage capabilities, and for the wider industry to be more ambitious with its emission-cutting targets.

Companies operating in the North Sea have committed to halving emissions by 2030 as part of the North Sea Transition Deal, with a longer-term target of becoming net zero by 2050.

Continued operations in the North Sea have, however, been met with backlash from environmentalists, and a group of lawyers from environmental law charity ClientEarth wrote an appeal to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng before the start of COP26 asking for greater caution and climate checks when approving certain projects.

While the government was expected to set out a new environmental framework by the end of this year to better guide decisions on project approvals in the North Sea, an update on this has not been seen since May this year.