HC Deb 20 July 1978 vol 954 cc303-5W
Mr. Campbell

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects the final report of Gas Gathering Pipelines (North Sea) Limited to be published; and whether he will make a statement.

Dr. Mabon

An edited version of the final report of Gas Gathering Pipelines (North Sea) Limited (GGP), safeguarding confidential information given by the licensees, is to be published today as an Energy paper. Copies have been made available to the Library of the House. I should like to thank the board, staff and parent companies of GGP for the valuable work they have put into their final report, and the operators of the fields concerned for their co-operation in providing information and advice to GGP.

The report concludes that considerably more natural gas could become available for collection from the United Kingdom sector of the northern North Sea but recommends that at this stage no gas-gathering system, requiring the construction of a new trunk pipeline to the shore, is necessary. GGP concluded that available gas arising before 1990 from oilfield production could be accommodated in the existing pipelines and that thereafter those pipelines could have substantial spare capacity. However, the capacity of the existing pipelines would be unlikely to be sufficient if they had to carry more Norwegian gas, or if large additional sources of gas were discovered and developed in the United Kingdom sector, or if for other reasons spare capacity in the Frigg lines could not be made available.

There is a significant chance of one of these possibilities and a close watch will need to be kept on the situation as it develops. Further careful appraisal of these matters will therefore be required and I have considered whether to request GGP to assist me in this task. However, while the other licensees have provided their full co-operation to GGP over the past 15 months, I do not think I could ask it to continue to provide its highly confidential licence information to an organisation containing some of its competitors. I have therefore informed GGP that I do not expect to make further requests for its corporate advice. Some of the parent companies, of course, have key roles to play in any likely developments on gas gathering, and I shall continue to look to them for information and advice, but it is up to them to decide whether to give that advice individually or jointly.

On the heavier gases, GGP has concluded that on present information ethane supplies surplus to that purchased by British Gas for its supply network will not build up to adequate levels to support another ethylene plant in addition to that proposed to be built at Moss Morran until the early 1990s, but here again there is uncertainy about the timing of supplies. Flexibiilty in the amounts of ethane purchased by British Gas and the use of liquid petroleum gases could mean that sufficient feedstocks will be available from the mid-1980s. The Government wish to see these opportunities for petrochemical development pursued vigorously.

In the Brent area, as was reported in my right hon. Friend's answer to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) on 17th April, Shell/Esso has applied for my authorisation for a gas pipeline between the Cormorant and Brent gas-fields. I am glad to be able to announce that Shell/Esso and the licensees of the Heather, Ninian and NW Hutton fields have reached sufficient agreement on the methods of financing for Shell/Esso to be able to assure me that, subject to my authorisation pursuant to section 20 of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Act and any other necessary consents, it is ready to construct that pipeline with the necessary links to which feeders from those other fields can later be connected.

Further south, larger volumes of associated gas are expected to arise, but are unlikely to require collection until about 1984. To enable that gas to be collected from that date, a decision on the organisation to plan the collection of this gas may be needed next year to allow time for planning and constructing the necessary pipelines. I have already initiated consultation with some of the parties most involved in possible action resulting from the conclusions of the report and I shall continue to keep in close touch with the Norwegian authorities. However, the matters considered in the report affect a wide range of interested bodies, whose advice I would welcome. In view of the possible timetable I have just described, I invite all interested parties to let me have their comments on the report by the end of the year.