All 2 Alok Sharma contributions to the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24

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Tue 20th Feb 2024

Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill

Alok Sharma Excerpts
2nd reading
Monday 22nd January 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con)
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I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I agree with the Secretary of State, who I hold in high regard, that the United Kingdom has been a leader in climate action internationally. We have cut our emissions in half over the past 30 years, faster than any other major economy in recent years. We have set ambitious domestic emission reduction targets, in particular ahead of COP26. Through our COP26 presidency, we managed to get over 90% of the global economy signed up to net zero. Just about every G20 nation signed up to a net zero commitment. We led on climate action domestically and we translated that into leading the world on climate action.

Just a few weeks ago at COP28, the UK, alongside other nations, signed up to transition away from fossil fuels. On his return from COP28, the Minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, my right hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) welcomed that global agreement from the Dispatch Box. He spoke about the importance of listening to the voices of the most climate-vulnerable island nations, who, as we know, wanted the world to agree to stronger language to phase out fossil fuels. Indeed, my right hon. Friend himself tweeted at COP28:

“There must be a phase-out of unabated fossil fuels to meet our climate goals.”

I commend the work that he and the whole UK team did in Dubai.

But today we have a Bill before the House, the sole purpose of which is to double-down on granting more oil and gas production licences. I do not believe, and it pains me to say this, that the Bill will advance that commitment to transition away from fossil fuels. I also do not believe that those climate-vulnerable nations my right hon. Friend referred to will think the Bill is consistent with the pledge that we, along with every other nation, made in Dubai.

As for the substance of the Bill, I think that, as currently drafted—and it pains me to say this—it is something of a distraction. I do not think it is necessary. The North Sea Transition Authority can already grant licences annually, or, indeed, when it considers it necessary. It has been doing that regularly for the past few years. The Department’s own explanatory notes make that clear by stating:

“ The NSTA will remain free to grant licences outside this new annual duty in the usual way, whether or not the new statutory tests are met.”

As for those two statutory tests, they seem to override the already non-binding climate compatibility checkpoint, and I have to say that I think they have been designed in such a way that the computer will always say yes to new oil and gas licences. Overall, the ability of the NSTA to grant new licences will not change materially as a result of the Bill.

Sadly, however—this is my opinion, and others will have theirs—what the Bill does do is reinforce the unfortunate perception of the UK’s rowing back from climate action, as indeed we saw last autumn with the chopping and changing of some policies, and that does make our international partners question the seriousness with which we take our international commitments. I said “it pains me to say this” because I know that the Government have been coming forward, under this Secretary of State, with commitments to try to tackle climate change and deliver on a clean energy transition.

We have heard that the Bill is about improving domestic energy security, but I think we all understand that the oil and gas extracted from the North sea is owned by private enterprises and the Government do not get to control to whom it is sold. Moreover, I think it is acknowledged that the Bill would not necessarily lower domestic energy bills in the UK, given that the price of oil and gas as a commodity is set internationally. I think that the best way to enhance our energy security, and ultimately bring down bills, is for the Government to continue to deliver on their ambitious plans for expanding home-grown clean energy, to which I know the Secretary of State and her Ministers are absolutely committed. That means more wind power, more solar and more nuclear as part of a diversified clean energy mix, and I back the Secretary of State in the work that she and her team are doing in delivering that clean energy mix.

We have heard that the Bill will secure 200,000 jobs. Of course people’s jobs and livelihoods matter, and we must ensure that we secure those jobs, but we must recognise that we are in the process of an energy transition. I support an orderly transition; for me, this is not about turning off the taps overnight on oil and gas. We must also acknowledge that more than 200,000 jobs, supported by the oil and gas industry, have been lost over the past decade, despite hundreds of new drilling licences being issued. We know that many of the skills used in the oil and gas sector are transferable to clean energy—to offshore wind and geothermal. If we want to truly turbocharge a clean energy transition, we need to help, support and retrain the workers who are making the transition, over time, from the fossil fuel sector into the many tens of thousands of jobs that are being created in clean energy as a result of the work that the Secretary of State and her team are doing.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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The right hon. Gentleman is making some powerful points, and I have huge respect for him when it comes to this topic. Does he agree that we are in real danger of turning off the interest and the investment appetite among many other nations, such as Korea and Japan, which see the UK as having vast expertise in offshore wind development sites, and that legislation of this kind will undermine that market?

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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There was some commentary expressing concern about investment appetite following some of the statements that were made in the autumn, but I think we must acknowledge that, over the last few months, the Government have managed to secure billions of pounds of extra investment committed within clean energy to the UK.

Turning to the carbon intensity test for granting new licences, I have to say again that I am not sure that the Government recognise the whole picture of where we get our imports from. The majority of the gas that the UK imports comes via a pipeline from Norway. It is not imported LNG. The carbon intensity of Norwegian gas production is around half that of UK domestic gas. If that is the test that the Government want to apply in deciding whether to issue new licences, I think they should take into account the average carbon intensity of all imported gas, not just LNG. Given that around 70% of remaining North sea reserves are oil, perhaps the tests should also include the carbon intensity of UK-produced oil, which is higher than the global average.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
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I put that very point to the Secretary of State in our Select Committee, and her response was that because almost all our oil is exported out of the UK for processing, we do not know what its full carbon intensity is. Is that not a great example of why our oil is not used in Britain and why this will not help British people?

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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The Secretary of State has set out her position very clearly and eloquently. I am trying to set out my position on the Bill.

The Government said that the independent Climate Change Committee’s own data showed that we were going to need new oil and gas in the decade ahead, but I respectfully say that that is not the same as saying that new licences should be granted. The weekend before this Bill was originally due to have its Second Reading, the interim chair of the committee put out a tweet to reconfirm the CCC’s position. He wrote that

“@theCCCuk evidence is that continued expansion of new oil and gas reserves is inconsistent with our climate commitments, especially more so in light of the recent Global Stocktake COP agreement we just signed.”

For the reasons that I have outlined, I will not vote for this Bill today, but assuming that it proceeds beyond its Second Reading, I hope that it will be possible to work with like- minded colleagues—and indeed the Government, the Secretary of State and her Ministers—to amend and improve the tests that are required to be met before any new oil and gas production licences are granted in the future.

In conclusion, delivering on the UK’s clean energy transition matters on many levels: for jobs, for inward investment, for lower bills, for real energy security and of course for the environment. We see the impacts of the changing climate around us daily: 2023 was the hottest year on record globally, and in recent weeks many people have faced flooding again in our country, including in my own constituency. We really should not need any more wake-up calls to put aside the distractions and act with the urgency that the situation demands.

Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill

Alok Sharma Excerpts
Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con)
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I beg to move amendment 12, page 1, line 3, at end insert—

“(1ZA) The OGA must not invite any new seaward area production application licences until the Secretary of State has by regulations brought into effect a ban on flaring and venting relating to new offshore installations other than that required in an emergency.

(1ZB) The Secretary of State must by regulation make such provision so that the OGA is only permitted to invite seaward area production application licences after 2030 once a prohibition is in place on routine flaring and venting for all offshore installations operating in UK waters.

(1ZC) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsections (1ZA) and (1ZB) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(1ZD) In subsection (1ZA) and (1ZB)—

‘flaring’ means the burning of hydrocarbons produced during oil and gas extraction;

‘venting’ means the release of un-combusted hydrocarbons directly into the atmosphere.”

This amendment prevents the invitation of new seaward area production application licences until the Secretary of State has introduced a ban on flaring and venting by new offshore installations. It also requires the Secretary of State to prevent licensing rounds from 2030 if a wider ban is not in place.

Rosie Winterton Portrait The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 15, page 1, line 3, at end insert—

“(1ZA) The OGA must not invite any new seaward area production application licences until the Secretary of State has by regulations brought into effect a requirement that—

(a) all new seaward area production application licences require a specific field commitment of a net zero carbon footprint reached through developing the Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage network or such other means as deemed appropriate; and

(b) a percentage, to be specified in regulations but not less than 30 per cent, of all new seaward area production application licences specifically align petroleum extraction with the refining of petroleum at the Grangemouth oil refinery.

(1ZB) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsections (1ZA) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”

Amendment 7, page 1, line 4, leave out “in each relevant year” and insert “on a case-by-case basis”.

Amendment 2, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the climate test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with amendment 3, sets out the climate test to be applied by the Oil and Gas Authority before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 8, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the energy and job security test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 9, introduces a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 10, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the just transition test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 11, introduces a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 13, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the just transition plans test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 14, introduces a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 17, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the climate change test (see section 4ZD)”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 18, sets out the climate change test to be applied by the Oil and Gas Authority before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 22, page 1, line 6, at end insert —

“(aa) the home energy efficiency test (see section 4ZD).”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 24, introduces a home energy efficiency test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward area production licences.

Amendment 23, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the Energy Charter test (see section 4ZD).”

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 25, introduces an Energy Charter test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward area production licences.

Amendment 19, page 2, line 1, after “of” leave out “liquefied”.

This amendment, together with Amendment 20, would require the carbon intensity of domestic natural gas to be assessed against the carbon intensity of all natural gas imported into the UK.

Amendment 20, page 2, line 7, leave out “liquefied”.

This amendment, together with Amendment 19, would require the carbon intensity of domestic natural gas to be assessed against the carbon intensity of all natural gas imported into the UK.

Amendment 21, page 2, line 24, at end insert—

“(4A) Within six months of the commencement of this Act, the Secretary of State must produce and lay before Parliament a report on the effect of amending the definition of “carbon intensity” as set out in subsection (4) according to section 93 of the Climate Change Act 2008.”

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to report how the carbon intensity test is affected if the definition of carbon intensity were amended to include emissions of gases other than carbon dioxide in line with the carbon dioxide equivalent measure in section 93 of the 2008 Climate Change Act.

Amendment 3, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The climate test mentioned in s 4ZA

The climate test is met in relation to a relevant year if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that current global fossil infrastructure will not emit more greenhouse gases than is compatible with limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”

Amendment 9, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The energy and job security test mentioned in s 4ZA

The energy and job security test is met in relation to a relevant year if the OGA assesses that new licences will—

(a) lower energy bills for households;

(b) deliver energy security and reduce reliance on imported fuel sources for domestic consumption;

(c) enhance sustained job security for the oil and gas workforce in areas of the UK economically reliant on the oil and gas sector;

(d) guarantee funding for domestic refineries to increase capacity to process sustainable fuel sources; and

(e) help the oil and gas sector meet commitments set out in the North Sea Transition Deal.”

This amendment sets out a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 11, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The just transition test mentioned in s 4ZA

The just transition test is met in relation to a relevant year if the OGA assesses that—

(a) new licences will support the delivery of the North Sea Transition Deal’s greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of 10% by 2025, 25% by 2027 and 50% by 2030 against a 2018 baseline, to meet the sector’s aim of a net zero basin by 2050; and

(b) the Secretary of State has provided funding to support the development of the renewable energy sector, in areas of the UK economically dependent on the oil and gas sector, equivalent to tax revenues collected from UK oil and gas production.”

This amendment sets out a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 14, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The just transition plans test mentioned in s 4ZA

(1) The just transition plans test is met in relation to a relevant year if the OGA assesses that all existing seaward area production licence holders have published just transition plans for their workforce that are compatible with limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

(2) For the purposes of this section—

“just transition plans” refer to plans agreed through formalised collective agreements with unions in the workplace for consultation on policy;

“workforce” includes workers, directly and indirectly (sub-contracted or agency) employed, or engaged through day-rate or self-employed contract models.”

Amendment 18, page 3, line 23, insert—

“4ZD The climate change test mentioned in 4ZA

The climate change test is met in relation to a relevant year if the latest reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the mitigation of climate change find that the granting of additional seaward area production licences is consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.”

This amendment sets out a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.

Amendment 24, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The home energy efficiency test mentioned in s 4ZA

The home energy efficiency test is met if the median rating in current Energy Performance Certificates in the United Kingdom falls within or above Band B.”

This amendment sets out the home energy efficiency test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward area production licences.

Amendment 25, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

“4ZD The Energy Charter test mentioned in s 4ZA

The Energy Charter Treaty test is met if the United Kingdom has made arrangements to withdraw from the Energy Charter Treaty.”

This amendment sets out the Energy Charter test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward area production licences.

Clause stand part.

Clause 2 stand part.

New clause 2—Duty to introduce spatial prioritisation policy

“After section 4 of the Petroleum Act 1998 insert—

4ZAA Duty to introduce spatial prioritisation policy

(1) Before the OGA invites applications for seaward area production licences under this Act the Secretary of State must publish a marine spatial prioritisation policy.

(2) The marine spatial prioritisation policy must establish a process for prioritising offshore renewables, marine protection, fishing activities, oil and gas licensing, and the achievement of relevant targets under the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Environment Act 2021 in any relevant decisions relating to the marine environment made by a body undertaking public functions.

(3) The OGA must comply with the marine spatial prioritisation policy set out in subsection (1) when deciding applications relating to new seaward area production licences.’”

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to publish a marine spatial prioritisation policy, taking into account relevant targets under the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Environment Act 2021.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

On Second Reading, I said that this Bill was something of a distraction and not necessary on the basis that the North Sea Transition Authority can already grant licences annually or, indeed, whenever it considers it necessary. That will not change with the Bill. I also noted at the time that the two statutory tests in the Bill have been designed in such a way that the computer always says yes to new oil and gas licences, but I also said that I would work with other like-minded colleagues to improve the Bill and bring in further tests that need to be met before any new oil and gas production licences are granted. That is what I and other Members have sought to do.

Amendment 12 seeks to do two things. First, it would stop the invitation of new production application licences until the Secretary of State has introduced a ban on the flaring and venting of methane by new offshore installations. Secondly, it would require the Secretary of State to prevent licensing rounds from 2030 if a wider ban on flaring and venting is not in place. Along with other Members who have signed up to the amendment, I argue that this is an entirely reasonable ask that the Government and all Members should be able to get behind, given that all it modestly seeks to do is put into statute existing guidance on flaring and venting that was issued by the North Sea Transition Authority.

Let me set out the precise wording of the principles that the NSTA expects industry to follow in relation to flaring and venting across all UK continental shelf areas. First,

“flaring and venting and associated emissions should be at the lowest possible levels in the circumstances”.

Secondly, there should be

“zero routine flaring and venting for all by 2030”.

Thirdly,

“all new developments should be planned and developed on the basis of zero routine flaring and venting.”

That is a set of NSTA principles with which amendment 12 in entirely consistent.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
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Can my right hon. Friend explain why it would be better to import liquefied natural gas, with four times the amount of CO2 produced, rather than have our own gas? His regulations would not apply to the foreign-produced gas we import.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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My right hon. Friend makes an important point: LNG has a higher carbon-intensity footprint. But the majority of the gas that we import comes by pipeline from Norway, and the production intensity of Norwegian gas is around half that of the UK’s.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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If I may, I will continue. In their response last year to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on accelerating the transition from fossil fuels and securing energy supplies, the Government doubled down on the NSTA position. Responding to the EAC recommendation, which called for the banning of flaring from UK installations, the Government noted that they had already signed up to

“make every effort to ensure that routine flaring from existing oil fields ends as soon as possible, and no later than 2030.”

The Government response went on to highlight the NSTA guidance that new developments are approved on the basis of zero routine flaring and venting.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) raised the issue of imported gas. I will just point out to him that, unfortunately, flaring is still a common practice in the UK. By contrast, Norway banned routine flaring in 1971, and the carbon intensity of Norwegian gas production is around half that of UK domestic production.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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The marginal gas we would import would come from Qatar or the United States of America. There is not an infinite supply of Norwegian gas, so my right hon. Friend is missing the main point.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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With respect, I do not think I am missing the main point. The point that the Government are pursuing is to ensure that we have less use of fossil fuels overall and that we expand our renewable capacity, including nuclear, which I know my right hon. Friend supports. That is where we should be going with this strategy. The ban on flaring in Norway is one of the key reasons that Norway has become a leader in the cleaner production of oil and gas, which this Government have clearly indicated that they also want for UK production.

I am looking forward to hearing the Minister’s response to amendment 12. I hope he will say that, given that it is consistent with Government policy and guidance, the Government will introduce a similar amendment in the other place. If they choose not to do that, I am pretty sure that a similar amendment will be tabled in the other place anyway, and that it is likely to be supported. I would just humbly observe that if the Government whip against this or any similar amendment, either in this House or in the other place, they will put colleagues in the absurd position of effectively having to vote against existing Government policy. I am really looking forward to listening to what the Minister has to say.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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--- Later in debate ---
The Bill provides certainty for industry to keep investing in ever cleaner, though always declining, UK oil and gas production as we transition to reach net zero. Failing to support the Bill could forfeit tens of billions in tax revenues, which the Opposition have no plan to replace any more than they had any idea how to fund their “Here today, gone tomorrow, maybe it is back again” apparently vital £28 billion plan which is no more. It would betray the 200,000 British workers who depend on a healthy oil and gas sector to make a living, and it would mean more reliance on imported LNG with four times higher production emissions than domestically produced gas. I am grateful to hon. Members for the interest they have taken in the Bill and the valuable scrutiny they have brought to it. I hope they are reassured by what I have outlined, and that they feel able to withdraw their amendments. On that basis, I call on all Members to support the Bill.
Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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I have listened intently to the Minister and I welcome his willingness to work together on the issue of flaring and venting. What I did not hear from him was the clarity that I wanted on whether Government would look to introducing an amendment similar to amendment 12 in the other place. Perhaps that is something we can discuss before the Bill returns to this House.

Graham Stuart Portrait Graham Stuart
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indicated assent.

Alok Sharma Portrait Sir Alok Sharma
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I am delighted to see the Minister nodding. I would just point out that even if the Government do not support a similar amendment in the other place, I am fairly confident that a similar amendment will be moved and I expect supported in the other place. This place will then have the opportunity to opine on that particular amendment, so I will not divide the Committee on this occasion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 10, page 1, line 6, at end insert—

“(aa) the just transition test (see section 4ZD)”.—(Dave Doogan.)

This paving amendment, together with Amendment 11, introduces a new test to be applied by the OGA before inviting applications for seaward new production licences.