Exploiting the Cambo oil field will not tackle high energy bills, campaigners warned amid reports Shell is reconsidering its decision to pull out of the project.
Work on the proposed development off the west coast of Shetland was paused in December after the energy firm decided to withdraw from the scheme, concluding the economic case for investment was “not strong enough”.
However, the price of oil has since risen to more than $100 (£76) a barrel, with fears over the future of Russian oil sending prices soaring, and there have been calls to boost energy security by increasing North Sea oil and gas drilling.
Sources have told the BBC that although Shell’s official position remains the same, it did acknowledge the “economic, political and regulatory environment had changed enormously” in the three months since Shell announced it was pulling out of the project.
Industry body Offshore Energies UK – formerly Oil and Gas UK – has previously said blocking long-planned energy projects such as Cambo would risk leaving the UK at the mercy of global energy shortages.
But Greenpeace warned the proposed development would not tackle high bills or improve energy security and urged the Government to throw its weight behind renewables, insulation and heat pumps to get the UK off oil and gas.
Shell’s decision to pull out was announced just weeks after the UK hosted the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, where countries pledged to try to limit global warming to 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of an overheating planet.
The International Energy Agency has said that no new oil and gas exploration projects should go ahead if the world is to meet the 1.5C goal.
In November, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Cambo project should not go ahead, following months of pressure from opposition parties and campaigners for the Scottish Government to make its position on Cambo clear.
And the advisory Climate Change Committee has said high prices are driven by global markets and increasing UK fossil fuel extraction would have virtually no impact on bills, urging efforts to cut oil and gas demand instead.
Philip Evans, oil and gas transition campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the Cambo project would produce heavy crude oil, for which the UK has very little refining capacity, and it would “do nothing to tackle high bills or shore up energy security”.
He said: “Shell wasn’t interested in pursuing this project when it was a bad look for them, but now they stand to gain billions in the midst of wartime price hikes, they’re interested again.
“Meanwhile our bills soar, and offshore workers are trapped in a volatile industry.
“The UK and North Sea communities deserve better.
“With the spring statement and a new energy strategy coming up, the Government must throw its weight behind British renewables, a proper home insulation scheme and heat pump rollout, or our energy policy will be disrupted by the whims of fossil fuel giants for decades.”
Tessa Khan, of the environmental campaign group Uplift, told Good Morning Scotland: “It’s obvious that Shell has seen an opportunity in the increased oil price to perhaps make a profit.
“But the reasons not to support Cambo – the fact that it’s not going to lower energy bills in the UK, it’s not going to help us meet domestic energy demand because its oil will be exported to international markets and of course the massive climate impact it will have.
“None of those things have changed. So, the case against opening up Cambo remains stronger than ever.”
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Danny Gross said: “Developing the Cambo oil field would do nothing to reduce soaring fuel bills.
“As 80% of the oil extracted in the UK is exported, it wouldn’t meaningfully improve our energy security either.”
“The energy crisis highlights the need to reduce our reliance on increasingly expensive gas and oil that are also wrecking our climate,” he said, calling for cheap, homegrown renewables and a nationwide insulation programme.
Scottish Tories said the Russian invasion of Ukraine had “brought into even sharper focus” the importance on not relying on imported gas and oil.
Recalling how the First Minister spoke out against the Cambo project, Conservative energy spokesman Liam Kerr said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to abandon North Sea oil and gas undoubtedly shook confidence in the sector, so it was no surprise Cambo was paused in the face of that negativity.
“This SNP-Green coalition would turn off the taps in the North Sea tomorrow if they could.
“The Scottish Conservatives repeatedly warned them, and Labour, about the ramifications for domestic energy security — and Putin’s appalling invasion of Ukraine has brought into even sharper focus the importance of not relying on foreign oil and gas imports.
“Their dogmatic refusal to change course looks more reckless by the day, so Nicola Sturgeon must admit she’s got this wrong and give her backing to Scottish oil and gas production — and the tens of thousands of skilled jobs it supports.”