asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on his policy on gas collection and flaring.
I refer the hon. Member to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 5 July about a feasibility and design study being made by the British Gas Corporation and Mobil North Sea Limited of a new gas gathering system. Restrictions on gas flaring are kept under review in the light of all relevant factors including the oil supply situation. In the case of the Brent field, the gas flaring consent for the next three months will restrict oil production by up to 1 million tonnes in order to reduce the level of gas flaring.
I congratulate the Minister on the decision to curtail oil production in the Brent field in order to save gas. Is he aware that through the failure of the previous Administration to face the international oil companies in respect of wastage about £1,000 million worth of natural gas has been wasted? Will he explain the Government's proposals for gas collection by way of other pipelines to make sure that gas is available not only for the national grid but for petrochemical developments to ease the employment situation in Scotland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. Until the result of the survey being carried out by the BGC and Mobil is known it is difficult to elaborate further. However, flaring this year is running at an average daily rate of 668 million cu. ft., which represents about 15 per cent. of gas supplied by the BGC annually. In oil equivalent terms, it is equal to about 7·5 per cent. of United Kingdom production in the first eight months of this year. It is a serious situation and the Government are monitoring it carefully.
Can the Minister explain how such a situation has been allowed to arise? The fact that 7½ per cent. of our total North Sea output is being burnt sounds a scandal beyond description.
The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the line is narrow. If the Government had decided to impose restrictions on flaring at an earlier date, there would have been a danger that the oil supply situation would be adversely affected.
My hon. Friend is aware that 17 per cent. of the gas available from the North Sea is flared. He referred to the Mobil pipeline. When that has been completed, what will the figure be reduced to? If that line is not built, will he make the gas available to third parties who may be able to use it?
My hon. Friend will appreciate that until the result of the survey is known it is difficult to make positive predictions. However. I assure him that when the result is published the Government will consider carefully what is the best course to follow.
Does the Minister agree that the present situation may be a good deal worse than he has suggested? Can he confirm that the amount of gas flared in recent weeks has been the equivalent of about one-third of total gas consumption inland? In view of that serious evidence of profligacy, may we have a far firmer and clearer assurance from the Minister, and far firmer and more decisive action to stop this frittering away of essential assets?
The hon. Gentleman is hardly being fair. The Government have taken positive steps at every opportunity to deal with the situation, and it will be watched on a continuing basis.