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Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment

Volume 494: debated on Wednesday 24 June 2009

My noble Friend the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, today made the following statement:

I am today announcing the outcome of the Offshore Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and I am publishing a policy document, “A Prevailing Wind: Advancing UK Offshore Wind Deployment”, that explains in more detail the Government’s decision on the offshore wind element of the draft plan/programme. The policy document draws together the key ongoing and planned work to enable large-scale deployment of offshore wind, as well as setting out the next steps. A copy of this document will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

In 2006, DECC initiated a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) on a draft plan/programme to hold further rounds of offshore oil and gas licensing, including licensing of gas storage in hydrocarbon reservoirs, and some 25 GW of additional offshore wind leasing in United Kingdom waters. The SEA is documented on a dedicated website ( and includes a range of field surveys, technical studies and syntheses of data commissioned to underpin the SEA assessment. For offshore (seaward) oil and gas licensing and for offshore gas storage licensing the SEA covered all UK waters. For offshore wind leasing, the SEA covered those parts of the UK renewable energy zone and the territorial waters of England and Wales where the water depth is around 60 metres or less. The Scottish Executive and Northern Ireland Executive are the competent authorities for conducting Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) within their territorial waters. Both of these authorities are currently undertaking SEAs for the purposes of enabling offshore wind leasing in these areas.

An expert assessment workshop was held to consider the key issues to be addressed in assessing the draft plan/programme. In addition, three sector-specific workshops and three wider stakeholder workshops were also held to gather industry perspectives and stakeholder input on relevant issues. The results of these workshops were assessed further and documented in an environmental report which then formed the basis for statutory, public and international consultation. In January 2009, the three-month consultation period on DECC’s draft plan/programme and environmental report commenced and was advertised in a number of local and national newspapers and by e-mail notification to a wide range of individuals and organisations.

All responses received from consultees on the draft plan/programme and the environmental report have been considered by DECC and a post-consultation report for the offshore energy SEA has been prepared and placed on the SEA website today. This summarises consultee comments and DECC responses to them, and presents a final list of recommendations, some of which have been revised following feedback from consultees. The full texts of consultee comments have also been placed on the SEA website.

DECC has now fully considered the conclusions and recommendations of the offshore energy SEA environmental report together with feedback received from consultees. In the light of the final recommendations set out in the post-consultation report, the Department concludes that there are no overriding environmental considerations to prevent the achievement of our draft plan/programme of leasing for offshore wind, and licensing of oil and gas production, and gas storage, if mitigation measures are implemented to prevent, reduce and offset significant adverse effects.

In all cases, the relevant competent authority will undertake any appropriate assessment(s) prior to awarding licences or leases under the rounds, if required following screening. This is required under EU Council Directive 79/409 EEC on “the conservation of wild birds” and Council Directive 92/43/EEC on “the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora”, and UK implementing regulations.

Monitoring the potentially significant environmental effects identified within the SEA will be undertaken using existing mechanisms and those to be set up under the auspices of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) and Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

For offshore wind, the Crown Estate is the leasing authority and can now proceed with offshore wind leasing competition(s). Within UK waters, the Government have decided that there should be spatial restrictions on offshore wind development in specific geographic areas as indicated in the recommendations of the post-consultation report. These spatial restrictions are issue and criteria-based, including for example military practice and exercise areas, airspace danger areas and International Maritime Organisation routes. As these boundaries and locations may change over time, the maps contained in the environmental report are indicative.

As the offshore wind policy document “A Prevailing Wind” published today makes clear, the Government, and DECC in particular, will have a continuing role to play in facilitating policy interventions necessary to help deliver the offshore wind element of our plan/programme. DECC, with the Crown Estate, has a cross-departmental Offshore Wind Delivery Board to develop and oversee this work.

For oil and gas, DECC will now proceed with preparations for a further round—the 26th—of offshore licensing. This is expected to be launched early next year—a further announcement will be made on the timing of the round.

For offshore gas storage, DECC will be the licensing authority and the Crown Estate will be the leasing authority, working in parallel with each other. DECC is currently considering the responses to the recent “Consultation on the proposed offshore gas storage and unloading licensing scheme”. DECC will issue the Government response in due course, indicating how the licensing scheme is to go forward.