HC Deb 19 May 1980 vol 985 cc1-4
1. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his latest estimate of the date when North Sea oil reserves will be exhausted.

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. David Howell)

It is not practicable to give a date for the exhaustion of reserves as this depends on future rates of discovery and extraction, but I expect production to continue well into the next century.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Secretary of State not aware that in the next century we shall be an impoverished nation without any oil? Does he intend to preside over this squandering of our valuable resources without doing anything to ensure that energy conservation is higher on the agenda than it is now?

Mr. Howell

There are questions on the Order Paper relating to the broad question of energy conservation. When the hon. Gentleman hears the facts he will realise that conservation is making a major contribution to energy policy. There are two sides to the question of the exhaustion of oil reserves. One is exploration, to encourage future discoveries, and the other is good oilfield practice and management of oil resources, to see that they last. These are being carefully handled, consistent with our major national interest.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams

Is my right hon. Friend looking at other sources of energy? Is he satisfied with the rate of study of a major project, the Severn barrage?

Mr. Howell

That is a different question. The Department finances an examination of a whole range of alternatives, including the Severn barrage feasibility study, which is going ahead.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Does not the Secretary of State believe that one of the roots of the problem of developing a proper depletion policy is the reckless manner in which the Varley assurances were given several years ago? What countenance has the Department of Energy taken of the fact that the United Kingdom will be importing 50 per cent. of its oil requirement by 1995? Does not that show that a depletion policy is badly needed?

Mr. Howell

The Varley assurances stand, and have been reaffirmed by this Government. The root of the problem in predicting and managing our North Sea resources is the vast uncertainty on both the production and the development and exploration side. These matters must be approached with prudence and flexibility in order to get the best results and to maintain self-sufficiency for the nation.

Dr. Glyn

Is my right hon. Frend satisfied with the exploration aspect? It seems to me important to find out what are the reserves. To what extent are private industry and the Government working together to make some assessment of future resources?

Mr. Howell

The Government and private industry are working in co-operation. The seventh round is a reflection of both the Government's determination and industry's willingness to get ahead with exploration so that we know the extent of our North Sea reserves and can move to development and production in a sensible manner, consistent with maintaining our self-sufficiency as far ahead as possible.

Dr. Owen

When will the Secretary of State tell the industry that he does not wish to see it export all the peak production projected for the years 1982 to 1987 and that he hopes that it will conserve this energy and spread it? Will the Secretary of State, in order to give an assurance for the future, drop his vendetta against BNOC and tell the House that having failed to get legislative time to split the BNOC, he will not split the BNOC and will not float and BNOC shares on the Stock Exchange?

Mr. Howell

On the second point, we are pressing ahead with our plans for the improved reorganisation of BNOC.

Mr. Russell Kerr


Mr. Howell

These will be consistent with allowing the public a wider share in what is already theirs. The right hon. Gentleman's first question related to depletion policy. I have begun discussions with the industry and I expect to make a statement on depletion policy to the House in due course.

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