§ Sir Robert Smith
To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many exploration and appraisal wells were started each year on the UK continental shelf in(a) 1996, (b) 1997 and (c) 1998; and how many of these wells were committed through licensing agreements; and what assessment she has made of the current number of uncommitted wells. 
§ Mr. Battle
The number of exploration and appraisal wells started on the UK Continental Shelf in 1996, 1997, and 1998 is as follows:
Year Exploration wells Appraisal Wells 1996 73 44 1997 61 37 1998 (to 30 June) 23 16
In 1997, 35 of the exploration wells drilled were the result of licence agreements, while 12 of those drilled in 1998 fall into this category. The figures for the 1996 drilling programme are not readily available.
There has been no assessment of the current number of uncommitted wells.