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Shell pulls out of Cambo oil field project

Oil major Shell has withdrawn from the controversial Cambo oil field development, which has faced mounting calls from green groups and ministers to be scrapped as it doesn’t align with the UK’s net-zero target.

Majority stakeholder Siccar Point Energy is currently in talks with government officials

Majority stakeholder Siccar Point Energy is currently in talks with government officials

Shell, which has a 30% stake in the Cambo oil field announced its intention to pull out of the project on Thursday evening (2 December).

“After comprehensive screening of the proposed Cambo development, we have concluded the economic case for investment in this project is not strong enough at this time, as well as having the potential for delays,” Shell said.

The development has led to the Government facing legal challenges from the likes of Greenpeace, while high profile politicians like Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon have stated their beliefs that the project should be scrapped.

Majority stakeholder Siccar Point Energy is currently in talks with government officials regarding the ongoing development of the project.

Ministers have faced mounting calls to end new North Sea oil and gas licensing and to halt specific projects – the most high-profile being the Cambo oilfield proposed by Siccar Point Energy and Shell. Should the project go ahead, more than 800 million barrels of oil would be extracted there.

Campaign groups Friends of the Earth and Uplift have already written to Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng, challenging the Government’s repeated assertions that he and other members of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) cannot intervene with the decision-making process.

Early July saw The National reporting that a journalist had been told by BEIS that the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) is “ultimately responsible” for the decision on whether to grant consent. Then, two weeks later, an Evening Standard piece quoted a BEIS source as saying that Kwarteng “is not involved in the decision”. In August, Sky News ran an article in which a Government source is quoted as saying: “Cambo is not a new oil field, it was licensed in 2001. We cannot intervene. The ongoing approval process is not within our control.”

The Conservative Party has not confirmed whether it intends to support the Cambo project. Some MPs have individually confirmed plans to support; others plan not to. The Labour Party and Green Party have stated that they will oppose the project. The SNP only stated its opposition to the project after pressure from activists, with Nicola Sturgeon writing to Whitehall last month urging a “reassessment” of the project plans.

Back in September, trade body OGUK’s 2021 Economic Report claimed that the need for “urgent action, by everyone, to tackle climate change, is indisputable”. However, it argued that the sector stands ready to invest up to £21bn in the next five years. Much of this funding, the report stated, will go towards extending the working lives of existing projects, but there are also 18 additional projects in the pipeline.

Should the Government approve all forthcoming applications for new and existing projects, OGUK estimates, an additional 2.7 billion barrels of oil could be extracted from the North Sea.

It is widely viewed that new oil projects aren’t in alignment with the net-zero trajectory. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) roadmap to net-zero globally by 2050 stated that, for the best chance of delivering net-zero, plans for future fossil fuel supply projects – especially more aggressive projects such as tar sands and arctic drilling – should be halted immediately.

Commenting on the announcement, Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland said: “Shell has finally realised the economic case for drilling new oil at Cambo when the world is already burning simply does not stack up.

“This is a positive step but not the end of the road and it is now incumbent on the Oil & Gas Authority and the UK Government to do the right thing and veto production at Cambo and other oil fields in the UK. The COP26 summit saw some welcome signals that the world must phase out oil and gas production, but giving Cambo the green light would send entirely the opposite message. The last thing the world needs in a climate crisis is drilling for more oil. This must be a step towards the end of this and every other new oil field.”

Matt Mace

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