Blocking a massive new taxpayer-subsidised oil field which could see 200m tonnes of C02 pumped into the atmosphere would not be “fair” on business, the shadow decarbonisation minister has said.
The comments from Sarah Jones MP came at a Labour party conference fringe event sponsored by Offshore Energy UK (OEUK), an industry body that lobbied for the Rosebank oil field, boasting that it will produce 69,000 barrels of oil per day.
In September the government granted a licence for the massive oil field near Shetland. Labour had opposed the development of Rosebank, but said that it would not revoke the licence now that it exists. The project could receive an effective taxpayer subsidy of £3.75bn through tax breaks. If burned, the nearly 500m barrels of oil at Rosebank would produce more than the annual CO2 emissions of the world’s 28 lowest-income countries combined.
“We’re not going to unpick the decisions that are made now, because that wouldn’t be fair on industry,” Jones told the fringe event hosted by the New Statesman.
“The one thing that everyone has said to us repeatedly, again and again and again, is that if you want investment in the carbon-free future that we all want to see, you’ve got to have stability […] We’re not going to revoke things that are agreed by this government. It wouldn’t be right.”
The event was interrupted by protesters from environmental group Green New Deal Rising.
Tash, 21, told the audience: “Labour should be protecting workers and our future, not cosying up with fossil fuel lobbyists. Keir [Starmer] should revoke Rosebank and cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry. Why are Labour giving a platform to the people who are destroying our future instead of meeting with us?”
Commenting on the protests, OEUK CEO David Whitehouse said, “I know we’re accused of greenwashing, but we’re just parents like anyone else quite frankly. We know that this has got to change.
“The reason I’m OK to sit here as a dad, and actually I’m OK to take the criticism as well […] Is because I’m committed to this just as much as anybody else, but one thing I see as different though is it isn’t going to happen overnight.”
Commenting on climate change more generally, Whitehouse – who is the CEO of a lobby group which is pushing for even more projects like Rosebank, as energy experts say there should be no new oil and gas exploration if global heating is to be limited to 1.5C – said the “next real challenge is having to decarbonise ourselves as consumers […] There’s a battle that we haven’t really engaged in about what it really means to decarbonise our lifestyles, our lives and the tremendous industries we have as well.”
While the Conservatives have sought to turn the slow cooking of Earth into a so-called “culture war” wedge issue, Labour’s pitch is that it will provide big business with the stability it needs to invest in greener alternatives and stop profiting from wrecking the planet.
On Tuesday, shadow energy minister Ed Miliband told conference, “I am proud that Keir’s 2030 mission is for the greatest investment in homegrown energy in British history. We’ll double onshore wind. We’ll treble solar. We’ll quadruple offshore wind. We’ll invest in nuclear and hydrogen and carbon capture and tidal power.”
He said Labour would create a “managed, just and worker-led transition”, telling oil and gas workers, “We will use existing oil and gas fields for decades to come and we will do whatever it takes so that you can be the people to build our clean energy future: in offshore wind, in hydrogen, in carbon capture.”
The approach has seen Labour politicians cosying up to some questionable “partners” at conference.
On Sunday evening, Ed Miliband told a fringe event, “I want to put on record my thanks” to energy company RWE for “their incredible willingness to be partners with us and thinking through our plans”, and for the “incredibly enlightened set of conversations that we’ve had.”
The event was sponsored by RWE, which operates a massive open-cast coal mine in Germany, which has been the target of years of protests by the Ende Gelände environmental movement.
On Monday, Jones spoke on a fringe panel sponsored by green energy company Orsted, about delivering “good, green British jobs”. The fact that over 200 trade unions from 100 countries recently wrote to Orsted accusing it of union-busting did not get a mention.
Simon Childs is a commissioning editor and reporter for Novara Media.