Sir David Davis writes on using British oil and gas reserves to get to Net Zero


As published by the Sunday Express:

IN A few days Boris Johnson will decide on the UK’s future energy policy, after what appears to have been a long-running battle with the Treasury.

The policy will attempt three things. Secure our energy supplies. Protect families. And help us reach Net-Zero.

It’s an immense set of challenges. But ones we must rise to if we are to have any hope of protecting family finances and meeting our climate obligations.

So how do we do that?

In what may appear to some to be counterintuitive, to hit Net Zero we must ramp up the extraction of North-Sea oil and gas.

If we do so, we can secure our energy future and use the proceeds to fund carbon capture and storage – capturing carbon dioxide emissions and storing them securely underground.

And we know the oil and gas is there.

The Government has already signalled six new oil and gas fields in the North Sea will soon be greenlit.

The fuel in those six fields alone is worth billions. And two-thirds of the cost of producing oil and gas is tax going straight to the Government.

So, the tax generated from opening those six fields will also be in the billions, or likely tens of billions, of pounds.

The money then funds the roll out of carbon capture to pump our carbon emissions under the North Sea where they are safely stored for hundreds of thousands of years.

Doing this may seem expensive. But it is much cheaper than the Government’s other green policies.

Capturing all the carbon emissions the UK generates from the production of energy would cost £5.5 billion a year.

This is a tiny 8 per cent of what the Treasury estimates is the yearly cost of our Net Zero policies.

And it will only cost £5 billion to build the required offshore infrastructure, but a conservative estimate is that it will create 225,000 jobs and boost the UK economy by over £160 billion by 2060.

In other words, it will pay for itself many times over.

Opening new oil and gas fields may be unpopular with green campaigners, but it is absolutely the sensible decision.

Sensible for families. Sensible for securing energy supplies. Sensible for supporting our economy.

It will help reduce our emissions and put the Net Zero goal within reach.

However, fossil fuels alone will not satisfy our energy demands.

We need to embrace nuclear, and quickly. This is a clean and safe form of energy generation which can smooth the road to Net-Zero.

But the Treasury is reportedly hesitant to hand over the necessary cash for nuclear projects.

This latest funding row shows just how near-sighted the Treasury can be.

The Government should be investing in nuclear now. Failure to do so will set the country back years.

Take the situation on Anglesey in Wales. In 2010, the Coalition Government backed a new nuclear power station next to the one being decommissioned at Wylfa.

But over a decade later, the entire project is hanging by a thread. Hitachi, the developer, pulled out in 2020 following the government’s failure to put forward the cash needed.

The Government still hopes it can get another developer to take an interest in the site. But any developer will need to see a clear commitment to nuclear. Otherwise, they will not risk making an investment.

At another site, Sizewell C in Suffolk, the government is planning to take a 20 per cent stake in a planned nuclear plant. This is a good step, but we must go further.

If we don’t move quickly, local support for plants in places like Anglesey will fade and building another one in the future will grow increasingly difficult – if not impossible.

We must realise what nuclear power can do for the county. And not just the huge power stations, but also small modular reactors – ones that can fit on the back of a lorry.

Rolls-Royce – an extraordinary British success story – is at the forefront of the development of this tech. But others are working on it too. Companies like the US giant Westinghouse who have their own small modular reactors.

We cannot rely solely on Rolls-Royce based just on its heritage and because it is British.

We have to consider all options. Including looking at smaller companies.

Companies like Shearwater, a UK based clean energy start up that is in talks with the Government to invest in the site in Anglesey.

They want to build small nuclear reactors on the island for much cheaper than the full-scale nuclear power plant previously proposed.

It is these types of projects and companies that we must invest in to power our future.

In addition to that investment, there is still further work to be done on enabling us to generate hydrogen reserves using wind and other renewable energy when energy is generated in periods of low national demand and would otherwise go to waste.

Politically, fracking is very difficult and near impossible when using conventional fracking techniques. But this does not mean we should ignore it entirely. There are other technologies that can be developed and deployed to make shale gas a more acceptable energy source.

We must invest as widely as possible to create a truly diverse energy generation landscape.

If we invest in North Sea oil and gas, invest in carbon capture and invest in nuclear, then we can achieve all three aims of the Government’s energy policy.

We will secure our energy supplies. We will protect consumers. We put Net Zero in reach.

Now is the time to be bold, be creative and seize these opportunities.

Boris Johnson must do just that when he outlines the UK’s future energy policy in the coming few days.