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North Sea Oil Production

Volume 889: debated on Monday 7 April 1975

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the expected production of oil from the North Sea in 1975 and in each of the following three years.

My right hon. Friend will be publishing this month estimates of production and reserves of oil and gas in the 1975 Report to Parliament.

Is my hon. Friend reasonably confident that levels of production will not be disappointing in the next two or three years, despite the unusually adverse wind and weather conditions experienced in recent months?

Like all enterprises in the North Sea, ours are subject to the accidents of working in such a hostile environment. It is especially disappointing that there will be a hold-up in production from the Argyll field due to the damage done to the production riser. This is one of the difficulties which cannot be avoided in North Sea oil development. There will be less oil landed this year than was thought at one time. We believe, however, that the targets for the 1980s will be maintained.

A great deal of wind on this subject has come from the Government. Is Government policy itself, which involves the taking of participation in the North Sea fields, accepted by the Government as being the cause of delay in North Sea development?

There is no evidence to indicate that the Government's proposals on participation have had any effect on development in the North Sea. At the moment, more rigs are exploring the North Sea than ever before.

Will my hon. Friend confirm the report in theFinancial Timesthis morning by a stockbroker indicating that there has been no delay due to Government policy in this respect?

This must be the view held by any objective observer of the oil scene. Opposition Members cannot be regarded as being in that category.

Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Government have not been influenced by representations from the Scottish National Party, with its attitude for cutting back in exploration for oil? In view of what the Minister has said, it is worrying for many Opposition Members to feel that there may be some tendency for the Government to yield to pressures from the nationalists.

The Government are willing to listen to representations from anyone, but we treat them with the seriousness they deserve. The policy of the Scottish National Party to cut back oil production to 40 million tons a year would totally ruin the United Kingdom offshore supply industry.

Can the Minister give us some indication of the development of Celtic Sea oil and say whether there is any truth in the story going the rounds in Wales that Celtic Sea oil development is being delayed because of the pressure being put on North Sea oil? Is there any land-based development in terms of ports and adjacent land for Celtic Sea oil development?

There is a difference of opinion between the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. The latter is all for speedy oil development in the waters off Wales. Obviously the Government are interested in future exploration in the seas round Wales, and Wales already shares to a considerable extent in the offshore oil market. At the moment, however, attention is being concentrated on the prolific fields east of the Shetlands. That is understandable since that is where strikes are most likely to be made.