§ 20. Mr. Ron Thomas
asked the Secretary of State for Energy why he agreed to Standard Oil taking over the management of the Ninian oilfield development.
§ Mr. John Smith
The licensees of the Ninian field proposed in January that from 1st March Chevron Petroleum (UK) Ltd., a subsidiary of Standard Oil of California, should become operator for the field, and that BP should chair the Ninian Management Committee. The change makes no difference to the shares held in the field by individual licensees, including Burmah Oil. I welcomed the news because it means that the resources for the development of this major United Kingdom oilfield will be reinforced.
§ Mr. Hoyle
Why was Chevron allowed to take over when BP was already responsible for the pipeline contract? It appears to me that it would have been better to use BP, which would also have kept it British, and that would have been far easier if a decision had been reached on the shares and we had a majority shareholding, so that we could have forced BP to take over responsibility.
§ Mr. Smith
I must make it clear that the stake of the various companies in the oilfield is not affected by the change of operator. The proposals for a change of operator were put forward by the licensees themselves, which included BP. It does not affect their shares, and there is no change in the amount of oil owned by British or American licensees.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will have nothing whatever to do with his hon. Friend's suggestion that the Government's shareholding should entitle them to force BP to do things that it regards as being against its commercial interest?
§ Mr. Smith
As my right hon. Friend has made clear, no decision has yet been reached about the disposal of the shares. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) demonstrates an appropriate concern that British interests should be safeguarded in the North Sea—a concern that was not always evidenced when Conservative Members were in office.