HC Deb 17 July 1997 vol 298 cc254-5W
Mr. Dafis

To ask the President of the Board of Trade when she proposes to introduce regulations requiring environmental impact assessments for all oil and gas developments for which licenses are being sought. [7102]

Mr. Fabricant

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if she plans to initiate an environmental impact assessment on the development of oil fields west of the Shetland Islands. [8049]

Mr. Battle

I have today published for consultation draft regulations which would implement the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (85/377 EC) as it applies to offshore oil and gas activities on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf.

Implementing the Directive for oil and gas projects will give the public improved rights of access to environmental information about projects likely to have significant effects on the environment and make the decision process more open than it is now. This should give people greater confidence that consent decisions are being made on the basis of proper science and thorough evaluation.

Member States are required by the Directive to consider environmental information which the interested public has had an opportunity to see and comment on before consent can be given to projects which could have a significant effect on the environment.

The draft Regulations would implement the Directive as it applies to consents for significant offshore oil and gas projects, including deep drillings, production developments and pipeline construction. They set out how the Secretary of State should decide which projects are likely to have significant effects on the environment and so require environmental assessments; the initial data companies must provide to permit that decision to be made; and, if one is required, the detailed information needed in any environmental statement.

They also require applicants to place notices to inform the public that an environmental statement has been required for a particular project and that copies of the statement can be obtained from or inspected at public addresses so that the public's views may be taken into account in reaching any decision on consent.

The proposed regulations would replace the Department's present procedures under which assessments have been required for developments within 25 miles of the coast or in other sensitive areas where recommended by the Government's statutory environmental advisers such as the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. These advisors will continue to be consulted under the new procedure.

The draft regulations have been sent to other Government departments and to the organisations normally consulted on oil and gas licensing, including the Wildlife and Countryside Links' Oil and Gas Environmental Consortium—which represents Friends of the Earth, the Marine Conservation Society and other national and regional environmental interest groups—and a number of fishermen's organisations as well as oil and gas industry representatives. Copies have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.

Comments on the proposed Offshore Petroleum Production and Pipe-lines (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1997 should be made to the Department of Trade and Industry by 1 October 1997.