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Oil (Onshore Drilling)

Volume 80: debated on Wednesday 12 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement on the environmental implications of current and planned onshore drilling for oil.

My Department's circular 2/85 provided guidance to mineral planning authorities in preparing development plan policies and deciding individual applications. On 3 June we published a booklet setting out the environmental safeguards at each stage of development. These seek to achieve the right balance between the nation's need for oil and its concern to protect the environment.

I welcome the booklet, but can the Minister give an assurance that the damage to the quality of local life in all future drillings will not be any greater than that splendidly achieved at Lockton in north Yorkshire during the past 10 years? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if he applies the Lockton standard firmly, there need not be any public alarm or significant damage to the quality of life?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his most helpful comments. Many people are quite rightly concerned about the environmental implications. If we are to maximise this country's potential wealth and oil reserves there must be drilling, but it must be done in an environmentally acceptable way. The hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention to a way in which it can be done very well, and it is our objective to extend those standards.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that drilling for exploratory wells is about to commence in Poole harbour? We accept its necessity and appreciate the co-operation and planning on the part of BP in all its operations both in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) at Wytch farm. If the Wytch farm standards are applied elsewhere, the public interest will be served both from the point of view of recovering oil and of protecting the environment.

Again I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know only too well the pressures placed on Members of Parliament as a result of such developments, but it has been shown that such developments can be carried out in an environmentally acceptable way. I, too, commend the arrangements that BP has made, together with Dorset county council. Indeed, I am glad that this has not become a party political matter, because it is in the interests of the country as a whole.

When cases go to the Secretary of State on appeal for his consideration, will the Minister ensure that some degree of equivalence is applied to them? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Secretary of State gives the same consideration to the people of south-east England when they find a few nodding donkeys near their gardens as was given, for example, to applications for opencast coalmining in south Wales, with its consequent ravaging of the environment?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. There are three stages to the development of oil: exploration, appraisal and development. At each of the three stages there has to be a separate licence and a separate planning application. We also insist upon proper restoration and after-care. However, I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If we had imposed some concern for restoration and after-care on the industrial development that took place in the 19th century, we would not have so many of the industrial scars that we see today.

In the context of mineral extraction, if my right hon. Friend has a chance to speak to his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Energy, will he put it to them that if it is their intention to proceed with turning Solihull into a coalmining community, it must be done with the maximum environmental sensitivity—

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the question is about onshore drilling for oil, and his point seems rather wide of that.