THE UK Government’s rhetoric at COP26 has been branded a “sham” after a regulator chief pushed for more oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

Tim Eggar, chairman of the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), told a conference event on Wednesday that stopping production of oil and gas would make net zero “unachievable”.

The combined PROSPEX and PETEX conference, in Islington, London, was organised by the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB).

The Scottish Greens said the comments “fly in the face of scientific evidence” as well as warnings from the United Nations (UN) and International Energy Agency (IEA).

READ MORE: UK has given £13.6bn to fossil fuel firms since Paris deal, campaigners say

Meanwhile, environmental campaigners at Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland slammed the regulator for “acting like a cheerleader” for the oil and gas industry.

Eggar delivered a keynote speech at the conference, which describes itself on its website as the “largest subsurface-focused global conference and exhibition in the UK”.

He began by thanking the exploration community for their “incredible resilience and determination” throughout the pandemic and “numerous commodity price downturns”.

The National:

Eggar (above) continued: “Most recently your whole existence is being called into question by a vociferous lobby, some of whom wish to see an abrupt end to UK oil and gas production. “They seem to be unaware of the consequences. Such an act would mean that net zero would be unachievable and a just transition a dream.”

The OGA chief then lamented that the discovery of oil fields now comes under greater scrutiny due to the climate crisis.

Eggar told delegates: “Even new field developments here in the UK – once celebrated for their value and contribution to the country – face much more challenge, even though the seven new gas fields coming onstream this year will enhance the UKs supply security through prolonging domestic gas production.”

The regulator is currently considering approving a license for the controversial Cambo oil field off the coast of Shetland, which is understood to contain 800 million barrels of oil.

READ MORE: Oil and gas chiefs react to Sturgeon vow to end 'unlimited' fossil fuel extraction

Eggar added that for both oil and gas the UK is producing more than it can replace with new oil fields, and that forecasts point to the UK being a net importer of gas by around 2050.

He said: “Given we know we need it, and we know we have it, I say there’s a strong case for continuing domestic exploration and production.”

Eggar then turned to licensing, stating that the detail of the climate compatibility checkpoint announced in the North Sea Transition Deal, yet to be released by the UK Government, will provide “more clarity” on its future.

He added that there is “no current ban on exploration and licensing” and said the regulator is ready to pounce with a “new look licensing round” once they have had confirmation from the government.

Eggar told delegates: “The industry has clearly articulated its need for continued licensing. We need you to be ready when the opportunity comes.

“The industry must demonstrate its appetite for new investment alongside its commitment to the transition. In anticipation, I urge you not to waste this pause, but to use it to prepare more robust bids than ever before.”

The National: Mark Ruskell

Scottish Greens energy and climate spokesperson Mark Ruskell (above) said that Eggar’s comments defy warnings from the UN, IEA and scientists.

He went on: “What’s more, it exposes the UK Government’s rhetoric at COP as a sham.

“There is already more oil in the North Sea than we can safely burn and keep global warming to a safe level, yet the UK Government wants to explore for even more.

“It must urgently recognise that what’s truly vital is securing humanity’s survival, not maximising the profits of the oil and gas industry.

“It will take time to manage a phase-out of oil and gas production ensuring that no workers are left behind, the planning for that just transition must happen now.”

Ryan Morrison, FoE Scotland just transition campaigner, said: “The OGA needs to start behaving like a regulator for the oil and gas industry rather than a cheerleader.

“Climate science is crystal clear that to meet the agreed 1.5C goal, we need to stop all new fossil fuel projects.

“The coming decade must see concerted government intervention and investment to ensure a fast and fair phase out of fossil fuels and a massive upscaling of renewables that protects livelihoods and creates plentiful decent green jobs here in Scotland.

“The North Sea oil and gas industry claims to be working towards net zero, but they are still exploring for and trying to open new oil fields like Cambo, while ignoring the emissions that result from burning their oil and gas.”

A spokesperson from the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “No other significant oil and gas producing nation has gone as far as the UK in supporting sector’s gradual transition to a low carbon future, as demonstrated by our North Sea Transition Deal.

“While we are backing the UK’s oil and gas industry’s transition to green energy, there will continue to be ongoing but diminishing need for oil and gas over the coming years while we ramp up renewable energy capacity, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee.

“What we cannot have is a cliff-edge where oil and gas are abandoned overnight. Turning off the taps would put energy security, British jobs and industries at risk and we would be even more dependent on foreign imports.”