All 1 Selaine Saxby contributions to the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill 2023-24

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Tue 20th Feb 2024

Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. New licences are an international issue. If we had new exploration licences around the world, we would simply produce far more oil and gas than is compatible with the 1.5° climate target. We should just keep it in the ground.

Finally, amendment 21 would go some way towards correcting another element of the carbon intensity test. As currently drafted—the Minister will want to listen to this bit—the test will not take account of methane emissions, which is a serious flaw. The whole case for comparing UK-based natural gas with LNG is based only on production emissions. The emission of methane at various stages of the production and transportation of LNG is, in aggregate, worse than the emissions of UK-produced and piped natural gas, but they are not carbon dioxide emissions, which is what the Bill says should be measured.

LNG’s potential carbon dioxide emissions upon burning are roughly the same as, or perhaps slightly greater than, the carbon dioxide emissions from UK natural gas. As the right hon. Member for Reading West said, that is elevated by the current UK practice of flaring surplus gas, which can be measured in carbon dioxide emissions.

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20-year and 100-year timeframes. Its lifetime in the atmosphere is shorter than the lifetime of CO2, but its impact is far more significant. The Climate Change Act 2008 is quite specific on how this should be measured. Section 93, which the Bill mentions but does not act on, states that

“greenhouse gas emissions…and removals of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere shall be measured or calculated in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.”

Proposed new section 4ZB(1) of the Petroleum Act 1998 mentions the carbon intensity of natural gas, but proposed new subsection (3) defines “carbon intensity” as

“the carbon dioxide emissions attributable to its production”.

But carbon dioxide emissions in production are not the principal concern here, as the gas has not been burned at that point. Indeed, I can conceive of smart climate lawyers challenging the test’s validity on precisely that point. The Minister might therefore see amendment 21 as providing a vital lifeline to the integrity of his Bill. To that extent, the amendment might be seen as helpful, but I somehow doubt that he will take it up. To coin a phrase, “It’s the methane, stupid.” The Bill should say so.

Proposed new section 4ZB(4) already gives the Secretary of State the power to amend the carbon intensity test to include emissions other than carbon dioxide. Perhaps the Secretary of State or the Minister will shortly take that up to save the test. We can anticipate a fairly amusing statutory instrument debate when he tries to do that.

Amendment 21 would simply require the Government to produce a report analysing what the impact of that change will be. In the spirit of trying to improve a Bill that, by design, is fairly resistant to improvement, we welcome the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Reading West and the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby).

The Climate Change Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee have called for a ban on routine flaring and venting, and such a ban is long overdue. A marine spatial prioritisation policy would help to organise and plan an optimal long-term, low-carbon economic strategy for the North sea.

There is clearly significant strength of feeling across the Committee that this is an inadequate Bill, and some of the proposed tests could undoubtedly make a bad Bill a little better, although some of those tests have internal problems. We would not want to vote against those tests, but the only comprehensive climate change and net zero compatible test is the one that we and, in principle, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) have set out. It is the best available route, within a severely constrained process, to align this deeply flawed Bill with our essential energy security and climate change priorities.

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
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I rise to speak to new clause 2 on spatial prioritisation. The competing pressures on sea space mean there is essentially a spatial squeeze. I fully understand the Bill’s importance, as we all know that the oil and gas industry will have a key role as the UK transitions towards cleaner energy. The Bill will provide reassurance to the industry.

I am grateful that the Government have stated that each annual licensing round will take place only if key emissions tests are met, to support the transition to net zero. I thank the Minister and his team for their ongoing engagement on this issue but, as we seek to turn to renewables and clean energy, we need to ensure that we have the space and infrastructure to carry this forward, otherwise the energy transition will never come to fruition.

I brought up this issue directly with the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, as my concerns extend beyond just oil and gas. I am also concerned about how floating offshore wind and fishing can cohabit the same ocean space, and I am also concerned about marine protected areas. There is clearly a balance to strike.

It was good to hear the Fisheries Minister’s response about cross-departmental work to ensure that our fishermen have a future in the light of our need to expand our renewable energy sources, but there is an opportunity in this Bill to ensure that we do not repeat these conversations as other energy sources compete for space in the precious waters around our coast. This will help not only the UK’s energy security but our push towards renewable energy, which will support our fishing fleets and retain a simultaneous focus on biodiversity and improving the condition of marine protected areas.

As a coastal MP, all these points are especially important to me. Being an eternal optimist, I think we can do all these things simultaneously if we can plan strategically where we have the opportunity.

David Duguid Portrait David Duguid
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My hon. Friend is making some very good points, particularly on the spatial squeeze. She says that this is not a choice between one thing and another. Opposition Members tend to see this debate as black and white, and that we have to go in either one direction or the other. Does she agree that, whether from the perspective of fishing, offshore wind or offshore oil and gas, it is very important that we come together so that everyone has a say?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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As always, I agree with the points my hon. Friend makes. Prioritising space is critical, as the Government have committed to delivering 50GW of offshore wind, which this represents approximately £93.3 billion-worth of investment and requires nearly 8,500 sq km of new marine space. I need to declare an interest, as the chair of the all-party group on the Celtic sea. As such, my particular concern is about the deployment of floating offshore wind, as it will open up areas such as the Celtic sea so that we can generate energy no matter which way the wind blows. As it can be deployed in waters deeper than 60 metres, that technology opens up 80% of our offshore wind resources.

The Celtic sea is an environment where strategic planning at this early point in the development of FLOW—not just for spatial prioritisation on the seabed but for clear planning of cable routes to optimise how power transitions to the grid—minimises blue carbon disruption from our ocean floors and onshore environmental damage from multiple plug-in points. Indeed, given the long-term commitment to energy generation in the Celtic sea, as well as the North sea, the chance to plan strategically and include all future leases within a national framework comes now. More renewable energy and greater energy efficiency contribute more to energy security than new oil and gas. This integrated spatial planning will require new licences to ensure that enough sea space is allocated for nature recovery and climate change mitigation. Otherwise, there is a risk that industrial activities could crowd out those important environmental purposes, which, with the right strategic planning early enough in the evolution of these vital new technologies, can coexist alongside those that are now waning.

Currently, the Bill has no provisions to require spatial prioritisation testing of the geographical blocks that become available for oil and gas search and production. That means that the North Sea Transition Authority will be able to grant new licences in areas of the sea where the cumulative impact of activities is incompatible with the achievement of Government targets in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the Environment Act 2021.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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Does my hon. Friend accept that in several cases potentially useful oil and gas deposits in the North sea are adjacent to existing pipes and existing development production platforms, so one great advantage would be that the infrastructure is already in place and it has spare capacity because of the decline of traditional fields? That would be far less intrusive, would it not?

Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby
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My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. However, for me, this is about opening up that conversation and making sure that these things are considered in the round. If we are going to put an extra pipe in, we should consider what we are offsetting somewhere else.

Polling found that 80% of the UK public believe our ocean protection laws must be strengthened, and I know how important our waters are to the residents of North Devon and the wider UK. We must ensure that we do all we can on this, while understanding the vital role that oil and gas plays and will play in our energy security. Spatial prioritisation is important to ensure that continuing to drive forward our new green energies is not done at the expense of our traditional industries, such as fishing, and gives due consideration to the marine environment, which we on land owe so much to and are still finding out more about. Balance and optimisation are the objective of this amendment, and I hope the Minister will consider this opportunity, so that we really can have it all and decarbonise our energy, improve our biodiversity, support our fishermen and improve our energy security.