Environmental campaigners warn new oilfield off the coast of the Shetland Islands could threaten hundreds of deep sea species

  • New oilfield off the coast of Scotland ‘could threaten deep sea species’
  • Environmentalists said pipelines would cut through UK Marine Protected Area
  • Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt is home to deep-sea sponges and ocean quahogs

A proposed new North Sea oilfield could threaten hundreds of species including protected deep sea sponges and ‘contribute to the climate crisis’, environmental groups have warned.

Campaigners said pipelines to export the oil from the Cambo field off the coast of Scotland would cut through approximately 22 miles of the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt, a UK Marine Protected Area.

It is home to rare deep-sea sponges, known as ‘cheese-bottoms’ by fishermen, and ocean quahogs, a type of clam that can live for hundreds of years, making it one of the oldest living creatures on earth.

A review from the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (Elaw) warns that the Cambo project ‘could jeopardise hundreds of species over several decades, as well as livelihoods’.

As Cop26 UN climate change talks take place in Glasgow, environmental groups are calling on the UK Government to say no to Siccar Point Energy’s Cambo proposal, in which Shell has a stake.

Activists from Friends of the Earth during a demonstration calling for an end to all new oil and gas projects in the North Sea during the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, November 7, 2021

Those behind the Cambo oilfield plan to extract 150 million barrels of oil under proposals handed to Downing Street by Siccar Point Energy. Pictured: Offshore drilling rig in Scotland

Climate activists stage a mock ceremony on the Buchanan Street Steps, featuring ‘the Queen’ turning off the oil tap, on the anniversary of the Queen inaugurating the flow of North Sea oil on November 3, 1975, during the Cop26 summit, November 3, 2021

Those behind the Cambo oilfield plan to extract 150 million barrels of oil under proposals handed to Downing Street by Siccar Point Energy.

The oilfield, which will emit more than three million tonnes of carbon during its lifespan, could operate until 2050 – by which time Britain has vowed to be net carbon neutral.

But the Cambo development will not be included in Boris Johnson’s ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’, which will decide whether new projects are ‘compatible with the UK’s climate change objectives.’

Campaigners said pipelines to export the oil from the Cambo field off the coast of Scotland would cut through approximately 22 miles of the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt, a UK Marine Protected Area.

Deep-sea sponges ‘cheese-bottoms’

The ocean quahog

It is home to rare deep-sea sponges, known as ‘cheese-bottoms’ by fishermen, and ocean quahogs, a type of clam that can live for hundreds of years, making it one of the oldest living creatures on earth.

A review from the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (Elaw) warns that the Cambo project ‘could jeopardise hundreds of species over several decades, as well as livelihoods’.

Siccar Point Energy have said the Cambo field could deliver up to 170 million barrels of oil during its 25-year operational life. 

However, environmental groups said this would generate emissions equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from 18 coal-fired power stations.

Tessa Khan, director of Uplift said: ‘These critical climate talks have two goals: enormous global cuts to carbon emissions and the protection and restoration of the natural world.

‘And yet, just a couple of hundred miles north of Glasgow, Cop26’s hosts are considering doing the complete opposite. This new oil field will contribute to the climate crisis while potentially damaging a sensitive underwater world. Everyone loses except the oil companies.

‘The UK Government must protect its seas, lead the world beyond oil and gas and say no to Cambo.’

Sixteen marine protection and climate groups, including Greenpeace UK, WWF UK, the Marine Conservation Society and Friends of the Earth Scotland, have written to the UK Government’s offshore oil and gas environmental regulator, Opred, asking it to include marine impacts when assessing the Cambo drilling application.

They raised concerns about the likely impacts the pipelines would have on the seabed, on hundreds of marine species and on the local fishing industry, and underline the devastation that an oil spill in the area would cause.

Calum Duncan, of the Marine Conservation Society, said: ‘The UK Government presents itself as a global leader on climate change and ocean protection, committing to protect a third of the ocean by 2030. It now needs to act on these promises and protect this precious sponge belt from Shell.

‘The sponge beds and associated species are incredibly sensitive deep-sea habitats. Construction, movement and potential leaking from this pipeline could have devastating consequences for deep-sea sponge and protected features already under pressure from damaging activities such as deep-sea trawling.

‘Against the twin climate and biodiversity crises, Boris Johnson must heed the message from scientists when they say there can be no new oil and gas developments, like Cambo, if we want a liveable climate, and the Scottish Government must ensure the adequate protection of this vulnerable sponge belt from all impacts.’

Siccar Point Energy have said the Cambo field could deliver up to 170 million barrels of oil during its 25-year operational life.

Environmental groups said this would generate emissions equivalent to the annual carbon pollution from 18 coal-fired power stations.

A UK Government spokesman said: ‘The Cambo oil field was originally licensed in 2001. Development proposals for oil fields under existing licences are a matter for the regulators: the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) and the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning; following their standard regulatory processes.

‘As part of regulatory process, Opred complete an environmental impact assessment and a public consultation on any proposal, including ensuring the impact on the marine environment is taken into account.’ 

A spokesman for Siccar Point Energy said: ‘We are committed to producing oil and gas responsibly to provide a homegrown energy supply during the transition and have been subject to all the regulatory processes, checks and balances expected of any offshore energy development.’

He added: ‘The export pipeline from Cambo is for gas. All our environmental work is underpinned by extensive special scientific analysis and research, predominantly using external specialists.’

Activists from Friends of the Earth during a demonstration calling for an end to all new oil and gas projects in the North Sea during the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, November 7, 2021

Climate activists stage a mock ceremony on the Buchanan Street Steps, featuring ‘the Queen’ turning off the oil tap, on the anniversary of the Queen inaugurating the flow of North Sea oil on November 3, 1975, during the Cop26 summit, November 3, 2021

The oilfield, which will emit more than three million tonnes of carbon during its lifespan, could operate until 2050 – by which time Britain has vowed to be net carbon neutral. Pictured: Another oil rig

COP26’s largest delegation? The fossil fuel industry! More than 500 people with links to oil and gas interests are accredited for summit – more than from any single country, says study 

There are more delegates at the Cop26 climate conference with links to the fossil fuel industry than from any single country, according to an analysis by eco-campaigners.

World leaders have gathered in Glasgow to set out the action they are taking and commit to end funding for fossil fuels abroad, cut methane emissions, curb deforestation, and phase out coal.

However, more than 500 people with oil and gas interests are accredited for the summit, according to analysis of the UN’s provisional list of named attendees by Global Witness and other groups.

Around 40,000 people are attending Cop26, with data showing that Brazil has the biggest official team of negotiators at 479 delegates while the UK, which is hosting the major conference, has 230.

He said discussions were held with the regulator and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) when compiling the environmental statement and the analysis of seabed habitats was completed in line with JNCC’s current methodology.

A Scottish Government spokesman said Nicola Sturgeon has called on the UK Government to use its power to urgently re-assess all approved oil licences where drilling has not yet commenced against our climate commitments.

He added: ‘There are duties on all public authorities to ensure that there is no significant risk to achieving Marine Protected Area conservation objectives from their decisions to consent activities. In the case of oil and gas development that is the responsibility of the UK Government through the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment & Decommissioning.’

Shell declined to comment.

It comes after Scotland’s Net Zero Secretary sparked a political row after saying oil and gas extraction in an independent Scotland would continue. 

As part of the co-operation agreement that gave the Greens two ministers in the Scottish Government, the future of oil and gas is a position where the two sides do not have to agree.

Net Zero Secretary Michael Matheson told The Scotsman newspaper on Monday that an independent Scotland would continue drilling for oil and gas.

‘We’re still some way off from decarbonising our society and we will still require an access to a level of hydrocarbons,’ Mr Matheson said.

Speaking to journalists after an event on Thursday at Cop26, Patrick Harvie stressed the rift between his party and the SNP on oil and gas.

‘This is one of the issues where we’ve been very clear in the co-operation agreement. It’s an issue where the Greens and the SNP don’t have a fully shared position,’ he said. 

‘The Greens are very clear, as are the majority of the world’s climate experts, including the likes of the International Energy Authority, who say no new oil and gas extraction.

‘That’s our position, that’s the position of, I think, a great many people here at Cop and I think it’s the position that all of the Scottish political landscape will get to as well.

Police officers detach an oil barrel from a Greenpeace climate activist during a protest outside Downing Street in London, Britain, October 11, 2021 

‘It’s only a few months since every political party, excluding the Greens, were supporting maximum economic extraction – that’s now dead as a policy. It’s only the Conservatives who are isolated in pretending you can carry on with that and take the climate emergency seriously.’

Mr Harvie added: ‘That shift in the political landscape hasn’t yet reached where the Greens are at and, I think, a lot of people understand that two political parties can agree on some things, disagree on others and still find ways to work together constructively.

‘But I think everybody, ultimately, is going to have to arrive at the point of saying, ‘oil and gas is not our future’, let’s harness the immense renewable potential of Scotland.’

Mr Harvie also tried to counter previous criticism of Greenpeace after he suggested the environmental activists did not understand the political landscape of Scotland after they criticised the First Minister’s position on the controversial Cambo oil field. 

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