THE UK Government is facing legal action over the approval of the Rosebank oil field.

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), the UK’s offshore oil and gas regulator, granted development and production consent for the project in September.

However, campaign group Uplift claim the Energy Secretary failed to show how Rosebank – one of the largest untapped oil reserves in UK waters – aligns with the Government’s net-zero plan for 2050.

In a separate case, Greenpeace said the approval process did not consider the pollution that would come from burning the oil once produced and that the project itself would be too damaging for marine wildlife.

The UK Government said it “strongly rejects these claims” and vowed to contest any challenge.

As the offshore regulator, the NSTA is responsible for reviewing applications to develop oil and gas in the North Sea and North Atlantic.

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It granted consent for operators Equinor and Ithaca Energy to begin developing Rosebank and at the time said it was “taking net-zero considerations into account throughout the project’s lifecycle”.

Net zero, as defined by the Government, only includes the emissions generated by the machinery used to extract the oil, not those from when it is burnt after being sold.

The general argument is that if another country buys and burns oil from UK waters, those emissions should count as belonging to that country, as the UK would count emissions from imported diesel burnt in cars on British roads as its own.

Greenpeace argues that the Energy Secretary should have at least considered the “direct and indirect effects of the use of the extracted hydrocarbons on human health, the environment and climate change”, but that this was “deliberately” excluded from an environmental impact assessment.

It also said there is no evidence that Scottish ministers were consulted about Rosebank’s impact on an important seabird breeding site nearby and that drilling and laying subsea cables will destroy ocean habitats while oil contamination will affect whales.

The National: The approval of the Rosebank oil field sparked protests back in SeptemberThe approval of the Rosebank oil field sparked protests back in September

Uplift said the NSTA gave no reasons for why it approved of Rosebank’s development and failed to explain how this was consistent with its duty in helping the Government meet the net zero target.

Tessa Khan, executive director of Uplift and herself a climate lawyer, said: “If Rosebank goes ahead, the UK will blow its own plans to stay within safe climate limits. It’s that simple.

“If the Government disagrees, it needs to provide evidence and prove it in court. The regulator also needs to be open about its reasons for approving a huge oil field when we’re facing a worsening climate crisis.”

The NSTA said it does not comment on ongoing legal issues.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK is a world leader in reaching net zero – cutting emissions faster than any other major economy – and as the independent Climate Change Committee recognises, we will still need oil and gas as part of our energy mix.

“We will continue to back the UK’s oil and gas industry, which underpins our energy security, supports up to 200,000 jobs, and will provide around £50 billion in tax revenue over the next five years – helping fund our transition to net zero.”

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Equinor, the primary owner of Rosebank, has said the field contains about 300 million barrels of oil and it is set to benefit from a £2.8 million tax break to extract it, environmental campaigners have calculated.

Globally, all current and planned fossil fuel projects would heat the Earth way beyond the internationally-agreed limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

World leaders hailed the agreement made at COP28 in Dubai this week which recognised, after 30 years of climate negotiations, the need to stop burning fossil fuels as a means to stop climate change.

There is no agreement, however, on who should be the first to pull their investments in line with the International Energy Agency’s analysis that there is double what is needed this decade.