CONFIDENCE in the North Sea has plunged to a “near-record low” amid mounting concern over the impact of the windfall tax.

The energy profits levy brought in to curb the extraordinary profits oil and gas companies have made since Russia invaded Ukraine and drove up prices is “now clearly having a detrimental effect” on the UK Continental Shelf.

And it is undermining the UK Government’s attempts to boost domestic oil and gas production while leading to companies to invest elsewhere in the world, a closely watched survey by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce has found.

The report calls on the UK Government to introduce a price floor, a price of oil measured through an impartial industry metric below which the levy would not apply.

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The energy profits levy or windfall tax was introduced by the UK Government around one year ago in light of the extraordinary profits oil and gas companies began making after prices rocketed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It effectively lifted the headline rate of tax on the oil and gas industry profits to 75 per cent.

While critics have argued the tax should be increased further following the huge profits made this year by the likes of BP and Shell, the latest Energy Transition Report from AGCC has highlighted the detrimental effect businesses say the levy is having as government policy was cited as the biggest factor impacting future activity levels.

The report, a biannual barometer of confidence in the UK energy sector, anticipates an uplift in renewables activity on the UKCS as the energy transition gathers pace, citing investment in the £400 million South Harbour development in Aberdeen as a facilitator of growth in green industries.

However, it forecasts a sharp decline in oil and gas exploration and production in spite of the UK becoming increasingly reliant on energy imports and focusing on boosting domestic production amid Russia’s continuing war against Ukraine.

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The report, published today, found that confidence in the UKCS had fallen to a "near-record low", tumbling to -37 from +36 points last April. It was the lowest level of confidence recorded by the survey beyond the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, the oil industry downturn that began in 2014, and the aftermath of Covid.

Yet, while confidence in the North Sea has plunged, the report found that companies have become increasingly upbeat about their prospects elsewhere in the world, with operators confirming that discretionary capital is now being diverted to work outside the UK.

Energy supply chain businesses are finding export markets for their skills and technologies in other parts of the world, which according to AGCC reinforces that other nations and basins are offering more favourable conditions than the UK. It states that this risks talent and perhaps companies being lured away from the North Sea.

Two-thirds of businesses surveyed believe that none of the UK political parties are delivering the best policies for delivering energy transition and security.  And although the Scottish Government’s energy strategy contains measures that support the energy transition, only 7% believe the SNP has the best policies to deliver the transition. According to the report, the strategy’s presumption against oil and gas has overshadowed its offshore wind and hydrogen ambitions.

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Russell Borthwick, chief executive of AGCC, said: “This biannual barometer of industry confidence has been informing policy in the energy sector for almost 20 years, and never has it been more crucial that we get these decisions right.

“It is pleasing to see that the energy transition is well and truly in action, with respondents projecting that 45% of their operations will be in new energy activities by 2030. The most popular areas of growth being in decommissioning, offshore and onshore wind, CCUS (carbon capture, utilisation and storage), hydrogen production/transportation and geothermal.

“However, as has been warned for over a year now, we are at risk of accelerating the decline of our oil and gas sector at a pace which jeopardises the skills and investment required to deliver the UK’s net-zero plans.

“Government and industry share the same green aspirations, but there is a clear disconnect between policy makers and those who will fund and deliver our low carbon future, particularly over the role of oil and gas. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

The survey, which was produced by AGCC in partnership with KPMG and ETZ, calls for a price floor on the energy profits levy to restore investor confidence in the North Sea, and cross-party support for domestic oil and gas production if the alternative is importing from abroad at a greater carbon cost.

The report said there should be collaboration between industry, academia, and government to create a new positive narrative for the energy sector to help it attract a new generation of workers and calls for greater impetus in the transition, particularly around licensing and consenting developments.