HC Deb 01 July 1998 vol 315 cc213-4W
Mr. Dafis

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans she has to respond to the policy from the Joint Links Oil and Gas Consortium which she received in May 1997; if she will meet representatives of the consortium; and if she will make a statement. [46863]

Mr. Battle

I wrote to the Consortium on 30 July 1997 setting out the Government's approach to environmental assessment of offshore oil and gas activity. The need for this was the main thrust of the policy proposals they had first sent to me in preliminary form in May. The Consortium subsequently sent me a copy of their published policy paper on 24 October, to which I sent a substantive reply on 27 November.

My letter described the important steps the Government had been taking to implement the Environmental Impact Assessment Directives 85/337/EEC and 97/11/EU offshore. The Offshore Petroleum Production and Pipe-lines (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations, which were then in draft but came into effect on 30 April 1998, implement the 1985 Directive as it applies to oil and gas activity across the whole of the United Kingdom continental shelf (UKCS). These Regulations require an environmental assessment (including public consultation) for all relevant projects likely to have significant effects on the environment before such projects can be consented to. I also ensured that they introduced the production and pipeline project thresholds in the 1997 amending Directive, which must be implemented in full by 14 March 1999. These thresholds—which the United Kingdom was the first member State to transpose into domestic legislation—mean that approval of most such projects on the UKCS will in future be subject to environmental assessment.

I also explained that there is no statutory requirement in UK or EU law for strategic environmental assessment of offshore activity in advance of offshore licensing, as advocated by the Consortium, but that the potential impact of such activity on the environment in or adjacent to areas of interest for licensing is reviewed by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and advice is taken from other Departments with environmental, fisheries and other marine interests before areas are offered for licensing. Comments have also been sought from the Consortium (among other non-government organisations) before recent licence offers, and my letter confirmed that the introduction of the 1998 Regulations would give it and similar bodies a further opportunity to contribute to decision making on relevant offshore projects in future.

I have no present plans to meet representatives of the Consortium.

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