HC Deb 15 May 1989 vol 153 c3
2. Mr. Arbuthnot

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy how many exploration and appraisal wells have been drilled in the North sea since drilling began.

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Cecil Parkinson)

Up to the end of April 1989 a total of 2,114 exploration and appraisal wells had been started on the United Kingdom continental shelf since drilling began in December 1964.

Mr. Arbuthnot

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the reserves are much higher than orginally envisaged? does he accept that it is an encouraging sign that applicants are now finding viable much smaller fields than the large fields that were orginally viable?

Mr. Parkinson

Yes, I can confirm that the past two years have been extremely good years in the North sea with record exploration, good finds and record investment. It is now clear that we shall be a substantial producer of oil and gas for at least the next 25 years.

Mr. Robert Hughes

As the Secretary of State has accepted that there may be some danger to safety in the North sea if the geomagnetic survey comes to an end and as his Department has accepted that there are circumstances in which he may be prepared to pay a contribution for the continuation of that programme, will he consult the Secretary of State for Education and Science and ensure that funding continues beyond 15 July so that a package of finance can be put together?

Mr. Parkinson

Yes, Sir. I will.

Mr. Hannam

Do not those welcome figures show that the tax regime following the Budget is about right? Can my right hon. Friend tell us how developments are proceeding in the North sea and whether our self-sufficiency will extend into the years ahead?

Mr. Parkinson

Yes, Sir. In the last year, not only was there a great deal of activity and exploration, but 24 developments, representing an investment of more than £32 billion, were approved by my Department. It is now clear that our reserves will last considerably longer than anyone originally dreamt. That is no reason why we should not take action to find more and to conserve what we have, but the picture is promising.

Mr. Doran

The Secretary of State is rightly encouraged by the rate of development in the North sea, but he will be aware that the rate of discovery is still much less than the rate of production. Can he give us a precise date for the latest estimates of our self-sufficiency, and what measures has he taken to extend the period of self-suficiency?

Mr. Parkinson

I cannot give those exact figures. It is clear that 1988 was not a good year for discovery as compared with exploration, but this year is much better. There have been seven discoveries in the first three and a half months of the year, and it is clear that the rate of production in the future will tail off much more gently than we had expected.