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Oil and Gas Licences

Volume 455: debated on Thursday 18 January 2007

1. When he expects to announce the award of licences under the 24th licensing round for oil and gas exploration; and if he will make a statement. (116319)

I hope to announce the great majority of the awards soon, but in light of concerns we are deferring our decision on a small number of awards to allow for further consideration of the impact that oil and gas could have on the environment.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and I am glad that he and his officials are taking time to consider the valid environmental concerns expressed by the Countryside Council for Wales and the delegation of constituents whom I brought to meet his colleague, the Minister for Science and Innovation, in the autumn. Given that concerns have been expressed, and given that Cardigan bay is protected by the precautionary principle in the European Union habitats directive, will he use the opportunity of the coming days and weeks to exclude the Cardigan bay special area of conservation from the 24th licensing round?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the environmental considerations are important and I am aware of the concerns about dolphins, not just in Cardigan bay but in the Moray firth. It may help the House if I say that we will go ahead with the award of licences in about 239 blocks. There are four blocks—three in Cardigan bay and one in the Moray firth—for which we are carrying out an appropriate assessment of the risks. I hope that that assessment can be carried out expeditiously so that we can reach a decision one way or another, but I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern. Under the law, we have to carry out an assessment and I hope that we can do so fairly quickly.