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Oil and Gas Windfall Tax

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the oil and gas windfall tax on investment and jobs, and the capacity of the energy sector and supply chain to deliver key components of the transition for achieving the United Kingdom’s net zero objectives.

My Lords, the Government introduced the energy profits levy to respond to exceptionally high prices that mean that oil and gas companies are benefiting from extraordinary profits. The Government have been clear that we want to see producers reinvest profits to support the economy, jobs and the UK’s energy security, which is why we have introduced generous investment allowances. Our North Sea transition deal reflects the key role of the sector in that energy transition.

I thank the Minister for that reply. As we increase our efforts to meet net zero, which we clearly must, does he agree that through all the projections to and through net zero, we will continue to use fossil fuel, albeit on a declining basis? Therefore, is it not essential, because Norway has said that it will produce every ounce of oil and gas that is commercial in its sector, that we do nothing to prevent the transition being led by the energy industry, which is increasing its investment in the necessary technology such as carbon capture and storage, hydrogen and green electricity, and that we need to ensure that it can continue to do that?

I am very happy to agree with the noble Lord. I am tempted to observe that he might want to talk to some of his colleagues on his Benches about that message. He is right that it makes much more sense as we go through the transition to obtain those resources from our own fields rather than import them at a much higher carbon content.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register and to the previous questions I have raised on this matter in Treasury Questions. The point is that the EPL has had a dramatic effect on investment in North Sea oil. The question from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asks what assessment the Government have made of it. Would the Minister include in that assessment an analysis of the bids that have been made—for example, for Chevron oil in the Republic of Congo and in the Gulf of Mexico—by North Sea oil companies that are no longer investing in the North Sea?

My noble friend makes an important point. Taxation levels are obviously a matter for the Chancellor and the Treasury. However, there are a number of concerning stories from investors that they have pulled out of investments in the North Sea; in fact, one remarked that parts of Africa were a more stable tax environment.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the £20 billion they put into the small modular reactor enterprise, and the work they have done for the STEP fission reactor. Does the Minister agree that the best net-zero way of ensuring that we have energy to provide the electrical baseload is to press ahead rapidly with Hinkley C and Sizewell because, if we do not get this nuclear power online, we are not going to make it?

I do agree with the noble Lord. Nuclear reactors, whether it be Sizewell or Hinkley, and small modular reactors will play an important part in the net-zero transition. Of course, we want a diverse supply mix; we want as much renewable energy as possible, but nuclear will play an important role.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the Paris Agreement implies the use of much less oil and gas in the 2030s than now? Therefore, issuing permits for exploration that usually requires at least seven years to generate flows makes little sense, particularly as the effect on prices and security would be negligible. Does he recognise that issuing such permits is essentially enabling and fostering bets on climate failure?

No, I would not agree with the noble Lord, I am afraid; he is absolutely dead wrong. Even with any new licences that might be issued in the UK, UK production will continue to decline at the rate of about 7% a year. It is estimated that global production decline needs to be about 3% to 4% in order to ensure the net-zero transition, so we will be declining at a faster rate than what is required globally.

My Lords, the windfall tax that the Minister mentions taxes profits but also gives a substantial kickback on investment. On renewables, the levy is against revenue and there is no such kickback. When will the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero stop discriminating against renewables?

My Lords, what the noble Lord refers to as a “kickback” is actually an investment allowance. If I am right, the same noble Lord was asking me about reducing flaring and about introducing electrification of fields. It is those investment allowances that pay for the very policies that he asked me to introduce.

My Lords, in concurring with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, in his statement that oil and gas are a vital part of transition to net zero, can I ask the Minister what the situation is with the Rosebank oil project, which is a world-class asset and one of the largest of its kind anywhere in the world?

I thank my noble friend for the kind invitation to respond to that. He will understand that I cannot comment on licensing decisions.

My Lords, analysis of the Office for Budget Responsibility data in May this year showed the extent to which oil and gas firms were able to reduce their energy profits levy while still making record profits. Between this loophole, the decision against a 78% rate and the decision not to backdate to catch all the surging profits, it is estimated that over £10 billion of potential tax will be missed between 2022-23 and 2023-24. I ask the Minister: have the Government given any consideration to fixing the levy to deliver the full benefits proposed since these figures came out?

I do not know where the noble Baroness gets her figures. I responded in my previous answer to the question about investment allowances—policies that the Opposition have called for. The energy profits levy is expected to raise about £26 billion and is set at a rate of 75%, which is one of the highest in the world. I realise that the Labour Party’s policy is to tax firms into extinction, but we need to leave them with some profits. Much of the profits of oil and gas companies goes towards pension funds and other shareholders which many pensioners and others rely on for their income.

My Lords, the IEA’s report World Energy Outlook 2022 is clear that the solution to the energy trilemma of economic, climate and security issues is to accelerate the move to greener energy. For us in the UK, among other things, that means urgently equipping our workforce with transferable skills for the energy transition. What are the Government doing to make sure that a single offshore energy skills passport that aligns training standards in all offshore energy sectors is introduced?

The noble Baroness is essentially right: of course we need to transition to renewable energy sources, and that is exactly what we are doing. The North Sea transition deal between the Government and North Sea companies is helping to move them, as far as the transition is going, to transfer their skills to many of the new industries. For example, many drilling companies operating in the North Sea also drill geothermal heat sources to use for renewable energy. The two things are not mutually incompatible.

My Lords, what assessment is the North Sea Transition Authority making of the alignment of company commitments, especially on net- zero targets covering scopes 1, 2 and 3, over the short, medium and long term as well as company alignment on capital expenditure towards those targets? Can the Minister assure us that, before licensing any expansion in North Sea exploration, the authority will factor this into consideration when judging projects under alignment with the UK’s net-zero legal commitment?

As I said in response to a previous question, I cannot comment on any licensing decisions—we will know about them before too long—but I can assure the right reverend Prelate that all the appropriate considerations are being taken into account by the Government and the North Sea Transition Authority on the issuing of those licences.

I agree 100% with the Government’s nuclear policy but, bearing in mind that we want the success of renewables and the end of oil and gas, what assessment has been made of the fact that by 2050—which is not that far away—when the oil and gas is gone, we will be relying on nuclear for intermittency? That will leave the nuclear situation as a stranded asset, because it really does not work that way; it has got to be a formal baseload. Once the rest has gone and we are on renewables and left with nuclear, how can it be intermittent?

I totally understand the point the noble Lord is making. He is right that many renewables are very cheap but intermittent, and nuclear will contribute towards the baseload. He is asking for long-term energy storage; the answer is hydrogen. We can store large quantities of hydrogen—some really exciting projects are coming forward—and it can then be burned, with no emissions, in a power station to provide the supplies that we will need when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.