ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners are lodging a protest today outside a key UK government hub in Scotland as legal action is considered over the approval of the development of a major North Sea gas field.

The Jackdaw field, east of Aberdeen, which is said to have the potential to produce 6.5% of Britain's gas output, was approved by both the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) – formerly the Oil and Gas Authority – and the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment & Decommissioning (OPRED).

Greenpeace says the approval could be unlawful and it is considering legal action.

But Scottish Conservatives' Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid, the former parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland said it was "great news" for the Scottish economy.

The regulatory approval comes as the UK government seeks to boost domestic energy output following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

But environmental campaigners have slammed the UK Government’s approval of Shell's plans claiming it ignores climate science and entrenches the reliance on gas despite the energy price crisis and need to move away from fossil fuels.

Plans for the gas field were initially rejected in October last year on environmental grounds, but Shell submitted an updated proposal to the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning in March.

Friends of the Earth Scotland says the field would hold gas with an unusually high CO2 content and that the new plans contained only minimal changes.

Activists have organised a protest outside Queen Elizabeth House, the UK Government hub in Edinburgh for this afternoon to demand ministers reverse its decision. Over 3,600 people signed a petition by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Greenpeace and Uplift opposing the field.

The protests, which are also expected in London, have been organised online under the banner: "The fightback starts now".

UK business minister Kwasi Kwarteng had welcomed the decision which as the government tries to boost domestic energy output in an effort to shield the UK from the market volatility caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"We're turbocharging renewables and nuclear, but we are also realistic about our energy needs now," he said on Twitter.

"Let's source more of the gas we need from British waters to protect energy security."

Shell said it welcomes the decision and that it plans to move ahead with the field's development, adding that it has the potential to produce 6.5% of Britain's gas output "at a time when UK energy security is critically required".

Under the new plan, Shell plans to start production from the field in the second half of 2025.

The global oil and gas company said the approval came "at a time when UK energy security is critically required."

Shell said it expected to spend £500m in the UK to develop the new facility.

It said the Jackdaw field should be able to provide gas to 1.4m British homes, and its carbon emissions should eventually be captured for storage, if a large project in Peterhead secures funding.

The new plan changes the way natural gas will be processed at the Shearwater hub, to which the Jackdaw field will be connected: rather than removing all naturally-occurring CO2 from the gas offshore, some of it will be taken to the St Fergus terminal, where it will be treated onshore.

It is thought that the gas field has reserves of between 120 million and 250 million barrels of oil equivalent, and Shell plans to start production in the second half of 2025.

Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “The decision to approve the Jackdaw gas field exposes Boris Johnson's climate leadership rhetoric at COP26 last year as pure greenwash. The UK Government is pouring fuel on the fire of the social and climate crises by deepening our reliance on fossil fuels.

“Approving the Jackdaw field will do nothing to help people who face higher bills in the UK or to tackle the climate crisis. The only people who benefit are executives and shareholders at Shell who are hellbent on destroying the planet for their own profit.

“The UK Government must reverse this approval, stop issuing any new fossil fuel licences and start planning for a managed phase-out of production, with a just transition for workers and communities. It must also do much more to alleviate the suffering of households as the energy price crisis bites, and urgently ramp up retrofits to keep homes warm while helping end reliance on expensive gas.”

But Scottish Conservatives' Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid, the former parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland said it was "great news" for the energy security and the north east economy "Whether our gas comes from Russia, Middle East, USA or (preferably) here in Great Britain, a demand for hydrocarbons in this country will continue - although continuing to decline - for many years to come," he said.

"Better we continue to supply as much of that demand as possible from British sources than needing to ship it from around the world from countries less stable than ours and with less stringent environmental controls."

He said the Jackdaw project will support the realisation of the Central North Sea Electrification Project, which aims to cut emissions from the oil and gas, infrastructure through electrification."

Greenpeace said it believes the permit approval could be unlawful and will consider legal action.

Ami McCarthy, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: "Approving Jackdaw is a desperate and destructive decision from Johnson's government, and proves there's no long-term plan.

"They could immediately shave billions off bills, get a grip on UK energy demand, create thousands of jobs, boost our economy, tackle the climate crisis and avoid future crises - if they just upgrade homes to be warmer and greener, and invest in clean and cheap renewable power.

"But instead, once again, they're handing out lucrative permits to the likes of Shell for a project that won't start producing gas for years, that won't lower our bills, but will create massive emissions causing deadly flooding and wildfires, and mass migration from people fleeing the climate crisis.

"This government has shown no regard for these emissions, or Jackdaw's ultimate climate impact. We think that's unlawful, we're looking at legal action to stop Jackdaw, and fight this every step of the way."

Energy independence was a major strand of the UK energy strategy announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in early April.

The main focus was in putting money in renewable and nuclear power but it also pledged new licences for gas projects in the North Sea arguing that producing gas in UK waters has a lower carbon footprint than doing so abroad.

It was thought that Shell changed the way it processes natural gas before it brings it onshore.

The plan had been to vent excess gas at an offshore hub to reduce the corrosive CO2 content in the pipes.

Natureal gas is methane, which is both a powerful greenhouse gas and short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, The UK was one of 100 countries that pledged to cut methane gas emissions by 30% over the next 10 years.

A Shell spokesperson said: "Responsibly produced, local gas production plays an essential role in the UK's transition to net zero, will support thousands of jobs, and forms part of Shell UK's broader intent to invest £20bn to £25bn in the UK, with 75% intended for low and zero-carbon products and services.

"However, as we have repeatedly stated, this can only happen with a stable fiscal policy and we continue to look to the government for those assurances."