REPORTS Shell could ditch its decision to axe the UK’s most controversial oil field have sparked debate on the future of the site and how Britain will meet its climate targets.

The energy giant paused work on the Cambo oil field off the west coast of Shetland in December amid a political storm and low oil prices.

But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen oil prices soar to more than $100 a barrel and UK politicians are now discussing boosting domestic production to increase the country’s energy security.

READ MORE: Shell reconsidering decision to axe Cambo project

The National: Activists from Friends of the Earth during a demonstration calling for an end to all new oil and gas projects in the North Sea, starting with the proposed Cambo oil field, outside the UK Government's Cop26 hub during the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

Environmental campaigners are clear the oil should remain in the ground – but experts who spoke to The National gave a different view.

Meeting Net Zero 

While the extraction of oil and gas from new sites may seem antithetical to meeting the tough climate targets set at COP26 in Glasgow in November, the energy transition is a “gradual process” said Dr Nick Schofield, an expert in igneous and petroleum geology at Aberdeen University.

There is also gas in the field which would make other nearby gas reserves viable and the UK has to have a “diverse supply” of energy to make a transition work, said Dr Schofield.   

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon says transition to renewables answer to Russian oil and gas dependency

He told The National: “We are going to need more and more gas.

“Everyone wants a just transition but the clue’s in the name, it’s a transition.

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“The UK is predominantly reliant on gas for our heating and electricity generation.”

As the UK relies less on gas extracted from the North Sea, it will have to import more, said Dr Schofield.

“Those imports have got a higher carbon footprint,” he added.

Dr Jamie Stewart, deputy director of the Centre for Energy Policy at Strathclyde University, said the decision to axe the Cambo field had been “highly politicised” but that there were “trade-offs on both sides.”

“Emissions associated with oil products vary greatly from different sources,” he said.

“If we import oil from somewhere like Denmark with low associated emissions, Cambo might be higher than that but it might have lower associated emissions than some other sources.

“With domestic production, there is more control over the regulations that are in place for our domestic oil production, so there’s a hope it could be done in a more environmentally sensitive way with reduced emissions.

“It’s to do with where your other oil sources would be coming from if you didn’t produce from Cambo.”

But environmental campaigners remain staunch in their opposition to the project.

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Caroline Rance, a climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth Scotland, said new fields would “further lock us into a broken fossil fuel energy system that is already unaffordable for millions of households in the UK and is worsening the climate emergency”.

READ MORE: UK Government ‘greenwashing to extreme’ over North Sea oil and gas production

She added: “Experts have made it clear that increasing the supply of oil and gas will take decades to deliver, won't have any real downward effect on household bills and will endanger people by accelerating climate change and extreme weather.”

Security for jobs and energy 

Professor Peter Cameron (below), the head of Dundee University’s Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy said the Cambo field is “compatible” with Net Zero targets.

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He warned that while no further exploration should take place for fossil fuels, “good to go” sites such as Cambo could provide energy security to the UK market as it moves away from oil and gas.

Prof. Cameron told The National: “There is a market where suddenly people who were dependent on Russia are diversifying away from it and that means there are people in the marketplace buying gas who were not there before.

“The UK has to think slightly different about it in the longer term.”

While the project would create jobs, said Prof. Cameron, tax revenues generated from Cambo would be unlikely to benefit UK taxpayers.

Dr Stewart said Cambo would support jobs in the oil and gas industry, which are highly skilled and specific.

“The bigger challenge is, if we can’t produce more oil and gas, how do you find other jobs for those workers who have quite unique skills and expertise,” he said.

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“Economically, tackling those challenges is important and won’t directly impact the cost of living but might people more resilient to cost of living challenges.”

What are the politicians saying?

The Greens remain steadfast in their opposition to Cambo, saying Shell wants to export oil from the site and is focused on “maximising its already eye-watering profits”.

Mark Ruskell, the party’s energy spokesperson, said: “We need to reduce our reliance on oil and gas and invest in renewable energy.”

The Scottish Government said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlighted the need to achieve energy security through renewables and has called on UK ministers to re-assess oil licences for sites where production has not yet begun.