OIL and Gas Authority chairman Tim Eggar has said exploration for new North Sea finds is vital if the UK is to avoid an increase in reliance on imports that he reckons would be senseless.

However, Mr Eggar warned the industry’s social licence to operate is “barely holding” amid the climate emergency.

After the industry came under sustained attack from campaigners at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Mr Eggar defended the role it can play in meeting demand for energy while supporting the transition to a cleaner system.

Noting that oil and gas provide around three quarters of total UK energy consumption, Mr Eggar said they are expected to be required for heat, power and transportation for the foreseeable future.

“If we need to be reminded of their importance to daily life, we only have to look back a matter of weeks, when we saw long queues at petrol stations and a gas crisis which brought the prospect of higher gas bills for millions of consumers. Security of supply is back in vogue - not before time,” he told an industry conference in London.

HeraldScotland: Oil and Gas Authority chairman Tim Eggar is a former UK energy minister Picture: OGAOil and Gas Authority chairman Tim Eggar is a former UK energy minister Picture: OGA

Mr Eggar said it was essential for firms to hunt for new fields that could be used to replace the reserves that are being used.

READ MORE: Shell boss defends Cambo plan and decares North Sea is an outstanding basin 

“We can produce gas with a lower carbon footprint than almost all other producing countries,” he said. “So it really makes no sense to be more reliant than we need to be on imports – particularly from countries with less to no commitment to reducing their emissions.”

Mr Eggar highlighted the value of the £16bn North Sea Transition Deal agreed with the UK Government to help maximise the potential of the industry to support the net zero drive. Industry leaders have agreed targets for cuts in emissions associated with exploration and production activity.

Mr Eggar noted that firms are working on schemes that would involve using natural gas as a feedstock in the production of hydrogen that could be used to help decarbonise industry, transport and domestic heating. Oil and gas industry expertise could be harnessed to make the UK a world leader in the development of carbon capture and storage facilities.

READ MORE: Orkney oil terminal set to become hydrogen production hub

However, Mr Eggar cautioned: “There is a climate emergency. Our dependence on fossil fuels must be reduced and we must produce our oil and gas much, much cleaner.”

He added: “Industry’s social licence to operate is barely holding. Failure to deliver the transition deal is not an option.”

Mr Eggar said the OGA as the sector regulator would hold the industry to account by very closely monitoring and reporting on progress.

The former energy minister noted the current UK Government has raised the prospect of adapting the licensing regime through the introduction of climate compatibility checkpoints. The OGA expects the government to publish the consultation document on the checkpoint proposal shortly.

Mr Eggar noted: “Let’s be clear, there is no current ban on exploration and licensing ... the OGA will be ready to go with a new look licensing round, if that is the way forward decided by government after the consultation.”

READ MORE: Value of North Sea oil production underlined by oil firm amid Shetland field controversy

Meanwhile, the chief executive of North Sea trade body OGUK, Deirdre Michie, said she was disappointed there had been “so much negative and often uninformed noise” directed towards the industry.

“Much, if not all, of that rhetoric failed to acknowledge that we are in fact a sector that recognises the issues that climate change is bringing and that we are changing and in action to help drive the energy transition,” she told a conference in St Andrews.

Ms Michie added: “The facts are according to independent scenarios - that we will continue to need oil and gas in the UK for decades to come – albeit on a declining basis and that we remain a net contributor to the Treasury.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last week said the UK Government should not approve plans to develop the giant Cambo field off Shetland, which were submitted by Shell and Siccar Point Energy in June.