HL Deb 17 March 2005 vol 670 cc42-4WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My honourable friend the Minister for Energy and e-commerce (Mike O'Brien) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am pleased to inform the House that I am today inviting applications for petroleum licences for unlicensed seaward blocks which will form the 23rd round of offshore petroleum licensing. These blocks are located in the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) areas 1–5 (a map of the SEA areas can be found on the website indicated below).

Strategic Environmental Assessment ( SEA )—Post Adoption Procedures

The DTI's draft plan to offer licences for offshore oil and gas exploration and production through a 23rd licensing round was the subject of a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) initiated in 2003. The SEA is documented on a dedicated website (www.offshore-sea.org.uk) I and includes commissioned reports on various components of the natural environment, cultural features and socio-economic considerations. In addition, as part of the SEA new information was collected, for example, on selected seabed features through sea-floor mapping, sampling and photography, and on the offshore behaviour of seals by means of satellite tagging. The draft plan for the 23rd licensing round included offering blocks within the area to the east of Scotland, and also in those areas that had been subject to earlier DTI SEAs (SEAs 1, 2, 3, and 4) which covered the remaining parts of the UK North Sea exclusive economic zone and the UK EEZ to the north and west of Orkney and Shetland.

The potential implications of the exploration and production activities which could follow if the draft plan was adopted were considered at an expert assessment workshop and a stakeholder workshop. The results of these workshops were assessed further and documented in an environmental report which then formed the basis for consultation with the consultation bodies and the public. The initiation of a three month consultation period on the DTI's draft plan and environmental report was advertised in a number of local and national newspapers and by e-mail notification to a wide range of individuals and organisations.

All responses received from statutory and other consultees on the draft plan and the environmental report have been considered by the DTI and a post-consultation report for SEA 5 has been prepared and placed on the SEA website. This summarises consultee comments and DTI responses to them. The full texts of consultee comments have also been placed on the SEA website.

In deciding to proceed with a 23rd offshore licensing round the DTI has considered the conclusions and recommendations of the SEA 5 environmental report together with feedback received from consultees. As a result of the SEA process, a number of blocks are being withheld from licensing for the present on environmental grounds. These blocks are:

15/20c, 15/25d, 34/6, 34/7, 34/8, 34/12, 34/13, 34/17, 34/18, 40/15, 41/29, 41/30, 47/11, 47/27, 47/28, 47/29, 47/30, 48/26, 51/3, 51/4, 51/5, 52/1, 52/28.

Licensing of these blocks may be revisited in the future; for example, as more information on the features of interest becomes available. In addition, a number of blocks may be licensed but with conditions attached restricting or prohibiting marine activities. It should be noted that the Offshore Petroleum Production and Pipe-lines (Assessment of Environmental Effects) Regulations 1999 and the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001 variously require that all major activities undertaken in connection with UK offshore hydrocarbon exploration and production include environmental assessment as part of consenting.

In addition, 34 blocks will not be offered for licensing in these SEA areas at the request of the Ministry of Defence

The DTI has established an offshore oil and gas environmental monitoring committee which is charged with co-ordinating the monitoring of significant environmental effects of the industry, including those that could arise from the implementation of the plan to hold a 23rd round of offshore licensing. The results of this monitoring will be made publicly available, including through the SEA website.

In addition to the website above, a copy of the SEA report can be reviewed free of charge at:

Department of Trade and Industry

1 Victoria Street



Arrangements to view the report can be made by telephoning 020 7215 5032.