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Coalition demands government halt new Rosebank oil field

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Public also opposed to huge subsidies for new North Sea drilling, poll shows

An unlikely coalition, including comedians Frankie Boyle and Aisling Bea, the Women’s Institute, popstar Aurora and climate activist Vanessa Nakate – alongside 200 organisations – are calling on Rishi Sunak to reject plans to develop the controversial Rosebank oil field off the coast of Shetland.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, the signatories – which also include RSPB, Oxfam and Extinction Rebellion – point to the devastating impact Rosebank will have on the climate, as well as the huge taxpayer subsidy it will receive if approved. 

A decision by minister Grant Shapps on whether or not to approve the field is expected imminently.

The new subsidy, introduced with the windfall tax by Rishi Sunak, means the UK public will effectively cover more than 90% of the costs of developing the oil field - campaigners warn. 

They said this would see Rosebank’s owners, which include the Norwegian state-owned giant Equinor, being given over half a billion pounds in tax breaks.

Earlier this month, Equinor reported year-end pre-tax profits of £62billion. 

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift, said: "It is crystal clear from this polling that the public are overwhelmingly against giving billions in state subsidies to oil and gas companies, especially when they are making eye-watering profits. 

When you've got Equinor raking in £62bn last year, it's no wonder. The last thing this industry needs is more public handouts and yet that's what this government is giving them. Meanwhile the rest of us are left dealing with unprecedented energy bills that are causing vulnerable people to freeze in their homes. 

“This cannot be allowed to continue. The government must close the loophole in the windfall tax that introduced this huge subsidy for the oil and gas industry and properly tax these obscene profits."

New polling by YouGov also shows widespread public opposition to the current policy of providing taxpayer subsidies to develop new North Sea oil and gas fields, which it’s estimated will cost UK taxpayers a total of £11 billion in lost windfall tax.Over two thirds (70%) of the 2,000 people surveyed disagree with the current policy and almost half (47%) strongly disagree. 

One in 10 people think that taxpayers should help finance new drilling. However, just 1% of people think that the UK public should bear more than 90% of the costs of developing new oil and gas fields, according to the survey.

Despite energy security being Sunak’s stated aim for the tax giveaway, the open letter points out that Rosebank “will not help UK energy security” since its reserves are “90% oil which will most likely be exported”. 

Rosebank, the UK’s largest undeveloped oil and gas field, is three times bigger than the neighbouring Cambo oil field, which drew widespread protest. 

The emissions from burning Rosebank’s reserves would be equal to the combined annual CO2 emissions of the 28 lowest-income countries in the world. 

Comedian Frankie Boyle said:  “Approving Rosebank makes no sense. We’re in a climate emergency, renewable energy is so much cheaper, and anyway this is oil for export. 

“The only winners would be the oil and gas companies that own these reserves off the Shetland coast. Why we’re subsidising its development to the tune of half a billion pounds, when they clearly don't need the cash and there are plenty more worthy causes, is a mystery.” 

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK is leading the world on climate change and our British Energy Security Strategy sets out our plan to supercharge our domestic renewable energy and nuclear capacity, as well as supporting our North Sea oil and gas industry as we transition to lower carbon energy.   

“No decision has yet been made regarding the proposed Rosebank field and development proposals for oil fields under existing licences are a matter for the regulators, who consider the impact on the environment when making their judgment.”