The UK Government is accepting it has the powers to stop plans to develop the Cambo oilfield “in the public interest” after campaigners launched a legal challenge.
For the past few months campaigners have been calling for the UK Government to block proposals to develop the oilfield off the coast of Shetland, saying it is incompatible with Scotland’s climate change targets.
Previously the UK Government said it was not able to intervene and stop the proposals as the oilfield was licensed back in 2001.
However the government’s legal department now says Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng could “give directions” to the Oil and Gas Authority, which is currently considering whether or not to approve the Cambo oilfield.
Business secretary has ‘powers of direction’
This comes after Friends of the Earth Scotland and Uplift both threatened legal action against the UK Government over the proposals, which would see up to 800 million barrels of oil extracted from the earth.
Previously Mr Kwarteng said he could not intervene, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “we can’t just tear up contracts”, insisting consent for the oilfield was a matter for the Oil and Gas Authority.
However in a letter to the campaigners, the government’s legal department rejected the case for a judicial review into the matter, but agreed Mr Kwarteng has “powers of direction” over the Oil and Gas Authority under the Energy Act 2016.
The letter said: “The secretary of state may give directions to the Oil and Gas Authority as to the exercise of tis functions if the secretary of state considers that the directions (a) are necessary in the interests of national security or (b) are otherwise in the public interest.
“Unless directions are given in the interests of national security, the secretary of state may give a direction on public interest grounds that relates to a particular case only if the secretary of state considers that the circumstances are exceptional.”
It added: “As at the date of this letter no specific or general direction has been given in respect of development of the Cambo field.”
Need to secure future for the planet
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “The UK Government has tried to dismiss Cambo as a done deal, something already settled long ago or a decision over which it has no control.
“Our legal threat has forced the government to admit that of course they have the power to stop Cambo from going ahead if they choose.
“The development would mean vast amounts of new climate emissions and oil still flowing in the 2050s.”
Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Green’s spokesman for the climate, added: “It’s time Johnson, Kwarteng and their government accepted their responsibility to secure a future for our children and the planet and tear up the contract for Cambo.”
However a spokesman for the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy continued to stress the decision was a matter for the Oil and Gas Authority and says there will “continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming decades”.
Sturgeon must to more to oppose Cambo
Following this announcement, Scottish Labour said it is “shameful” it took legal action from campaigners for the UK Government to admit it could intervene, and said it was time First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did more to stop the Cambo oilfield.
Monica Lennon, the party’s spokeswoman for net zero, said: “The UK Government has always had the power to stop Cambo going ahead, so it’s shameful that campaigners were forced to take legal action to extract this truth from Tory ministers.
“We need a strategy to shift to greener energy sources and a just transition for workers and communities, not opening new oilfields that will accelerate climate catastrophe.
“While Boris Johnson and his ministers have been dishonest about Cambo from the start, Nicola Sturgeon has sat on the fence and refuses to come out against it.
“With the eyes of the world watching Scotland, the first minister must throw her weight behind the Stop Cambo campaign before it’s too late.”