HC Deb 19 March 1979 vol 964 cc1080-1
6. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what prospects he sees for increasing North Sea oil production through new discoveries going beyond existing estimates to meet any shortfalls in supply from other parts of the world.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

Because of the time it takes to appraise and develop oil finds, new discoveries could not increase North Sea production in the short term.

Mr. Dykes

I thank the Minister of State for that answer. What effect will the proposed changes in PRT have on exploration and development in future in the light of the report by UKOOA—the United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association—to the Energy Commission?

Dr. Mabon

We are still discussing this matter with UKOOA, but since the changes were announced on 2 August we have approved four new fields. Even if there were discoveries, it would take between five and 10 years to appraise them. In the 1978 Brown Book, 600 million tonnes were assessed for possible further discoveries under present licences and about 1,000 million tonnes for further discoveries. This will be revised in the 1979 Brown Book, which will be published shortly.

Mr. Madden

Is the Minister aware that a firm in my constituency wrote to the Secretary of State on 22 February claiming that the Conoco Oil Company was restricting supplies to it? Does not that bear out the wider allegations which were made about Conoco diverting oil from Britain to more profitable markets overseas? What further assurances has he received from the industry, to which the Secretary of State for Energy referred earlier, and what is being done to ensure that oil supplies are not being switched and that this matter is not being pushed under the carpet of commercial secrecy?

Dr. Mabon

My right hon. Friend and I were disturbed at the report to which my hon. Friend referred. My right hon. Friend invited the company to explain the position. It was not a high-level company report. The company has completely explained its position and given definite assurances to my right hon. Friend that the practice to which my hon. Friend referred will not recur.

Mr. Gray

Does the Minister agree that it is important that the Government devise methods of increasing exploration in new discoveries? Is it not a condemnation of Government policy that at the height of the drilling season in 1978 there was less exploration and drilling than there had been for nearly a decade?

Dr. Mabon

I do not think that that is so. However, the hon. Gentleman, who knows a great deal about these matters, also knows that there was a great surge of activity as a result of concluding the fourth round of arrangements in March 1978. We take these matters seriously and I hope that we shall shortly be able to announce the sixth round. I hope that after that drilling will increase.