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Oil Exploration

Volume 13: debated on Monday 23 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy what discussions he has had with oil companies about surveying and possible exploration of the West Coast of Scotland, and in particular the Firth of Clyde.

We have had preliminary discussions with interested companies about the possibility of awarding petroleum licences for specific areas in the Firth of Clyde.

Is the Minister aware of the growing feeling that the oil companies are deliberately keeping quiet about the huge potential off the West Coast, as they did earlier about the huge reserves in the North Sea, to minimise the pressure to increase oil taxes? What power does the Minister have to undertake an independent study to ascertain the potential of reserves? Will he undertake such a study?

Such a study is unnecessary. Considerable information is already available to the Department. After consultation with various companies that have taken seismic soundings there, the Government realise that there is potential. The same enthusiasm for the West Coast has not been expressed so far because of the finds in the east. However there was enthusiasm for blocks offered off the West Coast in the seventh round.

We are talking about an essential part of the whole exploration programme. How is the exploration programme progressing? We were told in 1979 by the Minister's predecessor that there would be a surge of exploration in 1980. How many exploration wells were sunk in 1980? Did the surge turn out to be another period of stagnation?

The hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. The number of exploration wells started in the past year exceeded the number started in 1980.

If the hon. Gentleman wants the exact figures I invite him to table a question, which I shall answer.