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by Louise Wilson
04 September 2023
Energy minister Gillian Martin calls for ‘more nuanced and sensible’ approach to North Sea

Photo by Michal Wachucik

Energy minister Gillian Martin calls for ‘more nuanced and sensible’ approach to North Sea

Scotland’s energy minister has called on both the Conservatives and Labour to take a more “nuanced” approach to the future of the North Sea. 

Gillian Martin, who represents Aberdeenshire East, said licences for new oil and gas exploration should be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Her comments, made in an exclusive interview with Holyrood, come after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he would grant more than 100 new exploration licences – a move which was heavily criticised by climate campaigners. 

It also follows Keir Starmer’s announcement that Labour would “not grant licences to explore new fields” in the North Sea if it enters government next year. 

But Martin said neither approach was appropriate, as governments need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels while at the same time ensuring energy security. 

She said: “We [the Scottish Government] have consistently said that we feel that the UK Government should be awarding licences on a case-by-case basis, and that there has to be a justification for the awarding of those licences based on a climate compatibility checkpoint.” 

As part of its draft energy strategy launched in January, the Scottish Government set out proposals for a presumption against new oil and gas licences. 

This would mean ministers would be opposed to new exploration unless companies could prove that doing so would not negatively affect efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and that it would be beneficial for energy security and result in cheaper energy costs for consumers. 

However, as decisions on licencing remain reserved to the UK Government such a move by the Scottish Government would merely be symbolic. 

Martin added: “Nobody is listening to our very sensible argument that we are offering to the two major parties that are in contention for Number 10. You could have a far more nuanced and sensible approach to this if you were to say licences will be granted on a case-by-case basis.” 

Sunak, who visited north-east Scotland in July, confirmed his government would continue licencing rounds, which would be subject to a climate compatibility check.  

He said: “Now more than ever, it’s vital that we bolster our energy security and capitalise on that independence to deliver more affordable, clean energy to British homes and businesses. Even when we’ve reached net zero in 2050, a quarter of our energy needs will come from oil and gas.” 

But charity Oxfam said continued extraction of oil and gas would “send a wrecking ball through the UK’s climate commitments”, while Friends of the Earth said new licences “will simply pour more fuel on the flames”. 

Launching Labour’s green strategy in June, Starmer committed to ending the licencing of new fields but said his party would honour those granted before the next general election. 

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar last week said there would be no “turning off the tap” on oil and gas. He added that the “future of energy is changing” but pledged that workers and communities reliant on the sector would not be “abandoned”.

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