LONDON (AP) — The British government on Friday opened a new licensing round for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea despite criticism from environmentalists and scientists who say the move undermines the country’s commitment to tackling the climate change.

The Conservative Government argues that extracting more fossil fuels from the North Sea will create jobs and boost UK energy security, and is less harmful to the environment than importing gas and oil from the North Sea. ‘foreign.

“I know it sounds contradictory – but it’s actually good for the environment,” said Climate Minister Graham Stuart.

‘When we flare our own gas it generates fewer emissions around its production than foreign gas… while supporting UK jobs,’ he told the BBC.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven up gas and electricity prices and cut energy supplies across Europe, prompting countries to urgently focus on securing new sources .

The organization that oversees Britain’s electricity grid has said planned blackouts could be needed this winter if gas-fired power stations that produce 43% of Britain’s electricity cannot get enough gas to continue operating.

The UK last experienced planned blackouts in the 1970s, during an international oil crisis and a series of coal miners’ strikes.

The North Sea Transition Authority, or NSTA, said nearly 900 new exploration blocks and partial blocks in the North Sea are available, with up to 100 licenses likely to be issued. Priority will be given to four areas off the east coast of England known to contain hydrocarbons and close to existing infrastructure.

The government and the fossil fuel industry say drilling for more oil and gas would not undermine Britain’s pledge to cut its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050.

“Security of supply and net zero should not be in conflict,” said NSTA chief executive Andy Samuel. “The industry has committed to halving upstream emissions by 2030 and investing heavily in electrification, carbon storage and hydrogen.”

Environmentalists say the only way to limit global warming to the internationally approved target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels is to stop extracting fossil fuels.

“The government’s claim that burning more and more North Sea fossil fuels will help the UK meet its international obligations to become net zero by 2050 has no connection to reality,” said UK Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay.

“We really walked through the looking glass.”

___

Follow AP’s coverage of climate and environmental issues at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment