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North Sea Oil

Volume 560: debated on Thursday 14 March 2013

15. What steps he is taking to ensure that oil from the North sea continues to make a contribution to UK energy needs; and if he will make a statement. (147693)

The North sea has been a major UK success story, and oil and gas will continue to play a key role in the energy mix for years to come. The Government continue to promote activity and investment in the North sea, and we maintain a close dialogue with the industry on how to support its continued development.

My hon. Friend knows that the Government have issued more exploration licences than ever before, which is fantastic. However, there are many mature wells from which about 80% of the oil has been extracted. How can we set up a new procedure whereby we wring every single last drop of oil from those mature wells, and benefit the UK economy accordingly?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: North sea oil and gas have a long and bright future. He may not have seen the report from Oil & Gas UK—as you may not have done, Mr Speaker—but it states that we are seeing the highest investment in UK offshore oil and gas development on record. The Government, too, are doing their bit. The brownfield allowances have encouraged that investment, and this is about growth, jobs and skills, as well as energy. I look forward to a bright future in the North sea for the United Kingdom and all those who work in that wonderful industry.

Indeed, the oil industry does have a bright future; it is not a twilight industry. Miraculously, Scotland’s First Minister seems to have found a great deal more oil at the weekend, which will be very interesting to see. For the last drop to be wrung, as the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) said, assets in the North sea will need to continue and many were not built to last as long as they have. What will the Government do to help companies to improve their asset integrity in the North sea?

The hon. Lady is, I am aware, the chair of the all-party group on British offshore oil and gas. I visited Aberdeen a week or so ago, and I am going again in a week or two. I have committed to visiting Aberdeen more often even than my predecessor, who had a proud record in that regard. We need to bring in a new type of investor to the North sea industry. To that end, I have run investment events that will encourage the industry to link up with a new breed of investor. She is right: infrastructure matters and we must facilitate the investment to rebuild that infrastructure.

I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend will be visiting Aberdeen as often as I did, because I found that to be one of the most inspiring parts of the energy portfolio. What more can we do to support groundbreaking, world-class companies here in the UK supply chain, so that they can take advantage of the opportunities here and overseas, and we can get the industrial benefit alongside the energy benefit?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and let me repeat that he was highly thought of in the industry, not least due to his commitment to the visits he made and to his work. It is key to recognise that many small and medium-sized companies are a part of this exciting opportunity. Often we see this issue in terms of very large oil companies, but it is the SMEs that require the extra investment I described in answer to the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg).