HC Deb 03 December 1973 vol 865 cc895-7
12. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is his present assessment of the amount of crude oil reserves in the North Sea.

The Minister for Industry (Mr. Tom Boardman)

Recoverable reserves of the fields in the United Kingdom sector now considered to be commercial are estimated to be about 800 million tons. This figure will increase as further fields are discovered or existing fields proved commercial.

Mr. Wainwright

What action are the Government taking to speed up the flow of oil to our shores? Will the Minister guarantee that the nation will receive the maximum profit from these oilfields, or will there be a repetition of the situation which has arisen with the National Coal Board, in that the Government have compelled the NCB to sell off its brick interests, which made a profit of £1½ million last year, at a time when the NCB is short of money to pay decent wages to the miners?

Mr. Boardman

We are doing everything we can to help speed up development. We have asked companies to let us know of any matters that may be holding up their work so that we can take appropriate action to see that there is no delay in bringing the oil ashore. In reply to the second point, a review of licensing policy is being carried out, and a statement will be made in due course by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Has my hon. Friend made an assessment of the probable deposits off the north-west of Scotland, including the Minches?

Mr. Boardman

No, we have not been able to make an assessment there. We await the time when exploration goes there. It would be premature for me to express an opinion at this stage.

Mr. Dell

Has the hon. Gentleman made an estimate of the price at which these deposits will be brought ashore?

Mr. Boardman

Not yet, Sir.

Mr. Skeet

As the Minister has given an indication of the substantial reserves in the North Sea although they are conservative, will he confirm that it is desirable to go ahead with exploitation as quickly as possible? Will he also indicate the probable reserves available in the North Sea on both the United Kingdom side and the Norwegian side?

Mr. Boardman

My hon. Friend is right. We are, as part of our policy, pushing ahead with exploration and exploitation as fast as possible, and the Tightness of that policy has been proved. On the reserves, I refer my hon. Friend to the report made to Parliament in May, which we will update as soon as we have results, and we shall then discuss the exploration work.

Mr. Strang

Do the efforts which the Minister says the Government have put into speeding up the day when North Sea oil will come ashore mean that the level of participation by British industry in providing equipment and services is likely to be that much less than it would otherwise have been?

Mr. Boardman

No, I did not say we were speeding it up. I said that we were doing whatever we could to avoid any delays arising and to make sure that there were no impediments to the oil companies bringing the oil ashore as soon as possible. I do not think that the question of participation arises from that answer.

Mr. Benn

Will the Minister assure the House that we shall not be buying our own North Sea oil at the inflated Middle Eastern prices? Is not that exactly the case for a much greater extension of public ownership in the North Sea?

Mr. Boardman

The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to anticipate the price at which the oil will be brought ashore. I think that he will agree that the efforts being put in by privately financed companies show that they have been devoting their tremendous experience of technology and know-how to developing these fields as rapidly as possible.

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