New Clause 43 - Moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic and other fragile/hazardous environments

Energy Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 21st June 2011.

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‘(1) All companies registered in the United Kingdom for the purposes of the Companies Act 2006, or currently engaged in offshore oil and gas exploration or production on the continental shelf of the United Kingdom, shall be subject to a moratorium on all offshore oil and gas activities in—

(a) the Arctic Circle;

(b) such environments as the Secretary of State shall deem appropriate, or

(c) such areas or regions as the Secretary of State shall deem appropriate.

(2) The Secretary of State shall, within six months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent, cause to be published a list of all environments, areas or regions to which this moratorium shall apply.

(3) This moratorium shall apply—

(a) until the Secretary of State is satisfied, on the basis of advice from an independent scientific commission, that such operations can be carried out without unreasonable risk to the environment; and

(b) for a period of no less than five years from this Bill receiving Royal Assent. —(Caroline Lucas.)

This New Clause would prohibit companies registered in the UK, or engaged in oil and gas activities in UK waters, from engaging in offshore oil and gas exploration in the Arctic Circle or other such areas as the Secretary of State feels is appropriate, for a minimum of five years.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Labour, Bolton North East

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 44—Publication and consultation on oil pollution emergency plans—

‘(1) Any person or persons submitting an Oil Pollution Emergency Plan, as required under the Offshore Installations (Emergency Pollution Control) Regulations 2002 and the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution and Preparedness, Response Co-operation Convention) Regulations 1998 shall at the same time make this plan available for public consultation, and comment.

(2) The Secretary of State shall, within six months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent, publish regulations detailing the procedure for public consultation and comment.

(3) The Department for Energy and Climate Change shall, upon approval of an Oil Pollution Emergency Plan, publish said plan and any relevant accompanying documents on their website.’.

New clause 45—Adherence to UK standards for oil and gas production and extraction—

‘(1) Any company registered in the United Kingdom, shall be required to demonstrate that in undertaking any offshore oil and gas exploration or production activity outside of UK territory it has met all the conditions and standards which would apply to such activity when undertaken lawfully on the UK continental shelf.’.

New clause 47—Review of shale gas in the UK—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must carry out a review of and prepare and publish a report on the shale gas industry in the UK, including—

(a) the carbon footprint of all shale gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing;

(b) an environmental impact assessment of shale gas operations;

(c) the steps taken by relevant Government Departments to prepare for shale gas operations;

(d) the steps taken by local authorities to prepare for shale gas operations;

(e) the steps taken by the Environment Agency to prepare for shale gas operations;

(f) the steps taken by the Health and Safety Executive to prepare for shale gas operations;

(g) the possible contribution of shale gas operations to UK energy security and affordability;

(h) the possible contribution of shale gas operations to UK decarbonisation policies.

(2) The report must be published within three months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.

(3) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of the report.’.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party

New clause 43 seeks a moratorium on drilling for oil or gas in the Arctic circle or other environmentally sensitive areas by companies registered in the UK or engaged in oil and gas activities in UK waters. The moratorium is designed to last for at least five years, and it would remain until such time as the  Secretary of State is satisfied, on the basis of evidence from an independent scientific commission, that such operations would be safe.

The hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree and for Ogmore have tabled new clauses 44 and 45, which would ensure that oil pollution emergency plans are made available for public consultation and comment and would oblige companies registered in the UK to demonstrate that their offshore activities outside UK waters meet the same standards as those in UK waters. I welcome the amendments as an important step forward, and I particularly value the requirement to allow public access to oil spill plans. When it comes to oil and gas drilling in extremely environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic, however, I do not think any risk can be countenanced. Such habitats are simply too important to risk polluting them with a spill of any size.

Oil and gas exploration in the Arctic has gathered pace in recent years. Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Cairn Energy have secured drilling licences for the area, and Cairn Energy has already started drilling. Campaigners and experts believe that Cairn is unprepared for a spill from a rig in the Arctic. Cairn’s current response plans assume that the company will be able to drill a relief well in 37 days in the event of a problem, but the Norwegian authorities say that it will take around 50 days in the less remote and less extreme Barents sea.

Once the winter sea ice sets in and starts to thicken, all drilling becomes impossible in the Arctic. There are real fears, therefore, that oil from a blowout on a rig in the Arctic will reach the sea ice and become trapped underneath it for an extended period. Even as we speak, Greenpeace activists have been taking huge personal risks to block this reckless exploitation of an irreplaceable environment by boarding a Cairn rig to prevent it from drilling. On Friday, Greenpeace’s international executive director, Kumi Naidoo, was arrested by the Greenland Government as he boarded Cairn’s Leif Eriksson rig in the Arctic to hand the operators a 50,000-name petition demanding that they release their plans for responding to potential oil spills. Naidoo eloquently said:

“For me this is one of the defining environmental battles of our age, it’s a fight for sanity against the madness of a mindset that sees the melting of the Arctic sea ice as a good thing. As the ice retreats the oil companies want to send the rigs in and drill for the fossil fuels that got us into this mess in the first place. We have to stop them. It goes right to the heart”—

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 7 June).

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change

On a point of order, Mr Crausby. Before we bring the Committee’s proceedings to a close, may I put on record our appreciation of your chairmanship—

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Labour, Bolton North East

Order. That may be done only after our proceedings are concluded.

We have a lot to get through. If Members have not yet indicated whether they wish to move formally new clauses that they have tabled, I will ask them to confirm their intention. However, new clause 48, which has not been debated, and new clauses 43 to 45 and 47, which have been insufficiently debated, are not eligible to be put to a Division.

The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).