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Government pushes forward $9.4 billion project despite severe public backlash: ‘Colossal failure of leadership’

Less than five years ago, the United Kingdom government committed to reduce its pollution by 100% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). But a $9.4 billion drilling project to support the oil and gas industry received approval at the end of September, sparking public backlash, the New York Times reported.

What happened?

As detailed by the New York Times, an oil field was found in the British North Sea approximately 20 years ago, but no action was taken to develop it in part because of the high price of doing so.

However, a new approach by Equinor — a major Norwegian energy company that owns 80% of the Rosebank field — was able to cut costs.

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UK energy security secretary Claire Coutinho noted that “the jobs and billions of pounds this is worth to our economy will enable us to have greater energy independence,” but environmental groups strongly opposed the decision.

“This is yet another colossal failure of leadership from a government that seems determined to ignore the scientific warnings on the climate crisis,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement quoted by the New York Times.

The approval for Rosebank came on the heels of a decision to push back the ban on gas and diesel cars by five years to 2035.

Why is this concerning?

The burning of oil is responsible for about a third of all carbon pollution worldwide, according to ClientEarth, with the impact of that pollution linked to a variety of concerns, from rising sea levels to health problems because of air-quality issues.

In 2021, the International Energy Agency recommended avoiding any investment in oil and gas projects so the world could reach its goal of limiting warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

Additionally, the North Sea is known for its fisheries, thanks in part to the plethora of nutrients that support many species.

Yet exposure to oil, even if accidental, can wreak havoc on the health of the animals who come in contact with it. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, adult fish can suffer problems such as fin erosion and reproduction issues, and they can become unsafe for human consumption.

What’s being done about it?

According to the New York Times, the North Sea Transition Authority, an oil and gas regulator, issued a statement saying “net zero considerations” were part of the equation in the approval of the Rosebank field. How these considerations were included, though, is not immediately clear.

Reed wrote that the Labour Party — in opposition to the government of current conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — reportedly plans to stop any approval of new oil and gas developments if it wins the general election expected in 2024.

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