The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is currently consulting on a draft Appropriate Assessment for the Moray Firth in the context of the 24th Offshore Oil and Gas Licensing Round. The draft Appropriate Assessment has been carried out under the terms of the Habitats Directive which was implemented into UK law by the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001 (as amended). Those regulations require that before granting a petroleum licence, the Secretary of State carry out an Appropriate Assessment where he considers that any activity which might be carried on pursuant to such a licence is likely to have a significant effect on any Special Area of Conservation—whether individually or in combination with other plans or projects. Subject to certain exceptions, a licence can only be granted after having ascertained through the Appropriate Assessment that such activities will not have an adverse effect on the integrity of such a SAC.
The draft Appropriate Assessment considers the impact of potential oil and gas activities on the Moray Firth SAC, which has been designated as such because it contains one of only two resident bottlenose dolphin populations in UK waters. In carrying out his assessment, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform obtained a report from the specialist Sea Mammal Research Unit which is based at St. Andrews University in Scotland. The Secretary of State’s preliminary view—which is supported by the report from the SMRU—is that oil and gas activities which would flow from the grant of a petroleum licence in the Moray Firth would not have an adverse effect on the integrity of the Moray Firth SAC (or others).
The draft Appropriate Assessment was published on 21 December 2007 and the public consultation period on the draft runs until 14 March 2008. The Government’s statutory environmental advisers are also being consulted.