HC Deb 04 July 1995 vol 263 cc144-5W
Sir Michael Neubert

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will announce the award of licences for oil and gas exploration for the North sea and west of Britain under the 16th round of offshore licensing.

Mr. Page

I informed the House on 18 May that I was awarding licences for each of the 26 blocks in the west of Shetland area for which applications were received in the 16th offshore licensing round, and fast tracked these awards so that companies have been able to start work this summer.

Other areas around include the North sea and the west and south of Britain and I am offering licences for 53 of the 56 blocks applied for. In all, I have been able to offer licences for 79 blocks of the 82 blocks applies for in the 16th round, a reflection of the very high standard of applications received and which will help to ensure that the current high level of exploration continues.

Today's awards will result in the shooting of over 3,500 sq. km. of 3D seismic surveys and over 4,000 line kilometres of 2D seismic surveys. Companies have also committed themselves to drill 13 wells in the next two years and a further nine during the rest of the six-year phase of the licences. This level of commitment means that new wells will be drilled in all of the areas offered in the round. In the whole round 7,500 sq. km. of 3D seismic surveys will be carried out and 50 new wells drilled.

Companies applied for blocks in all of the areas offered in the 16th round. As well as the west of Shetland, there was an encouraging level of interest in the west of Cardigan bay where five blocks have been licensed for the first time. There are also a number of blocks in the east Irish sea and English channel that have not been previously licensed. Many blocks in this part of the round received competing applications of extremely high quality, although as expected, competition was generally less than for the west of Shetland.

I have taken fully into account that a number of the areas offered for licensing in this part of the Round are environmentally sensitive, especially those areas close to the coast. For this reason, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy announced an initiative last year involving the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the UK Offshore Operators Association to produce a series of regional coastal reports which provide valuable data on the coastal and environmental resources in the area concerned.

When examining applications for blocks in these areas, we made sure that applicant companies took account of the environmental resources identified in the reports when planning their work programmes and that they demonstrated how they planned to avoid or minimise any risks to those resources from oil and gas exploration. All companies awarded licences have shown a strong commitment to environmental protection and to the appropriate conditions which are contained in their licences.

These awards—and those announced earlier for blocks in the west of Shetland—have shown the continuing high level of commitment by the oil and gas companies to the United Kingdom continental shelf. The widespread interest in exploration in an increasing number of areas in the UKCS will help to secure the UK's position as an oil and gas producer well into the next century.