Liam Halligan: Is the North Sea key to the UK's energy security?

Liam Halligan
Liam Halligan

Britain now imports more oil from Norway than we pump from our own wells

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"Energy security is now a matter of national security" so says Offshore Energies UK – a lobby group campaigning for more oil and gas to be pumped from the North Sea.

Britain could soon be importing four-fifths of the gas we need by 2030, the lobby group says, unless major investment in the North Sea is allowed to go ahead.

When it comes to oil, Britain now gets more of the black stuff from Norway than we pump from our own oil wells.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and related sanctions, have brought into sharp focus the extent to which the UK relies on imported energy. As oil and gas prices have spiralled on global markets, fuel bills in Britain have soared – for motorists and households in general – with energy security soaring up the political agenda.

For years, environmental campaigners have urged the Government to slash funding and block new North Sea projects.

But Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng recently told GB News it would be “completely insane” for Britain to turn its back on North Sea oil and gas – a sector which employs around 250,000 people.

Senior oil and gas industry insiders tell me the government does now seem more willing to grant licences to develop new North Sea oil and gas fields. But UK production – which has fallen pretty steadily since the late 1990s – could continue to decline unless drilling infrastructure can be updated.

The North Sea currently produces gas equivalent to 38 percent of UK demand and oil equivalent to more than 80 percent of the oil used in Britain.

Offshore Energies UK say that with no new investment, the North Sea could be producing just 20 percent of the gas we use in the UK and only 30 percent of our oil needs.

The debate over North Sea oil and gas is hotting-up. Industry insider wants more Government help – to encourage the energy giants to pump more. Others say those same energy giants, having made huge profits, should be hit with a one-off windfall tax.

The public, meanwhile, is getting increasingly irate as fuel and energy bills rise.