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Oil And Gas Rigs (Safety)

Volume 930: debated on Wednesday 27 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy (1) if he will inquire into the feasibility of combining the development of wave power with the need to reduce environmental hazards in offshore oil and gas installations by the construction of strings of floating ducks as wave barriers, extracting energy in the northern areas of the North Sea adjacent to oil and gas platforms, and so reducing the risks of storm damage, making development and maintenance work easier, safer, quicker and less costly;(2) if he will inquire into the advantages that could result for the offshore oil and gas industry if development and long-term operations could be conducted in calmer seas that would exist behind protective floating barriers, such as are being experimentally developed for the extraction of wave energy; if such wave barriers would reduce the risks of accidents; if they would reduce capital costs of oil and gas development; if they would reduce costs of maintenance; and if they would make the exploitation of marginal fields more profitable.

My Department is already supporting a project aimed at providing a zone of calm water around offshore oil installations. However, as was made clear during the deliberations of the Offshore Energy Technology Board, the breaking away of a substantial floating barrier from its moorings could pose an even greater danger to a rig, platform or service vessel than the weather itself. The present project, therefore, pays particular attention to avoiding this problem. The type of device more suitable for extracting useful power from the waves is likely to be more massive than the one designed only to reduce wave motions, and is, therefore, less likely to be acceptable for this purpose as well as being at an earlier stage of development. The basic techniques are, of course, related, and through its support of both types of device my Department will be able to ensure that the benefits of the researches are shared.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what further steps he has taken to re-examine, in the light of the Ekofisk blow-out, United Kingdom arrangements for dealing with North Sea accidents.

Ministers are keeping in close touch with the Ekofisk blow-out situation and Her Majesty's Government have offered assistance to Norway—e.g., air surveillance and clean-up measures. A study group under the aegis of the Interdepartmental Committee on Marine Safety has been set up urgently to evaluate the adequacy of the departmental responses to the blow-out and to identify the implications for the United Kingdom national interest offshore, including fisheries. The group comprises officials of the Departments of Trade, Environment, Defence, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Scottish Office and the Health and Safety Executive; my Department will take the chair. Other countries and interests such as the offshore operators and local authorities will be consulted as necessary. I had a meeting with the United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association on 26th April to discuss the preliminary lessons to be learnt from the Ekofisk blow-out and plan to resume the discussion with them next week.