The UK government on Thursday unveiled an energy security strategy to cut its reliance on fossil fuel imports that would revive offshore oil and natural gas production in the North Sea.

The nation, like others in Europe, is looking to break free of Russian oil and natural gas imports. Its strategy envisions more domestically produced natural gas as a transition fuel. The plan also aims to harness more wind and solar resources, boost hydrogen production, expand nuclear power and improve energy efficiency.

“…We’re going to make better use of the oil and gas in our own backyard by giving the energy fields of the North Sea a new lease of life,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

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The North Sea emerged as a top oil-producing region in the 1970s, but production has declined since, forcing Europe to become more reliant on imports. About half of the UK’s natural gas demand is currently met with domestic supplies. 

The UK government is aiming to phase out by the end of this year imports of Russian oil, which meet about 8% of its demand. It’s also looking to cut Russian gas imports, which account for about 4% of supplies. Europe has laid out a plan to break away from the pariah state before 2030. 

Improving Energy Security

“Clearly, governments around the world are very focused on improving their energy security,” Evercore ISI analysts led by James West said Thursday after the UK unveiled its strategy. “With rising energy demand, increasing energy supplies from both fossil fuel and renewables will be important.”

The UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said Thursday the North Sea’s UK sector holds about 7.9 billion bbl of oil reserves and 560 billion cubic meters of natural gas. 

The government’s strategy for boosting output includes another offshore licensing round this fall. Regulators would also accelerate project development, while the country remains “open-minded” to onshore reserves. Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng recently commissioned a study to review the safety of shale gas development, which the UK paused in 2019.

Neptune Energy, which operates in the North Sea’s Cygnus field, said the strategy sends a “clear message to investors that the UK is reopened for business.” CEO Pete Jones said the company is looking to quickly ramp up output from the North Sea in Norway. He said the company could supply more gas to UK homes if the government modifies entry specifications allowing higher volumes. 

The energy security strategy builds on a 10-point plan to accelerate alternative energy development released in 2020 and a net-zero strategy unveiled last year. The government’s plan to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 calls for significantly curbing reliance on oil and natural gas without phasing them out completely.

The government said Thursday it was aiming to have eight nuclear reactors online before 2030. The UK expects to have 24 GW of nuclear power supply in place by 2050, or three times more than current capacity levels. 

The security plan also envisions doubling UK hydrogen production to 10 GW by 2030. Offshore wind targets are now at 50 GW by 2030, while the government wants to increase solar capacity fivefold from the current level of 14 GW. 

The plan also provides billions in subsidies to help households handle energy costs and upgrade homes to be more energy efficient. It would continue to aid industry across the country with skyrocketing energy prices. 

Make UK, a manufacturing trade group, welcomed the plan and acknowledged that it’s a necessary strategy to cut reliance on energy imports. However, CEO Stephen Phipson said more could be done in the short term to help control energy costs, such as reducing the cost of carbon in the UK’s emissions trading scheme.