I am today announcing the outcome of the offshore energy strategic environmental assessment (OESEA3) regarding future offshore energy developments.
The Department has completed an offshore energy strategic environmental assessment (OESEA) of a draft plan/programme to enable further offshore licensing/leasing for oil and gas, gas storage including carbon dioxide transport and storage as part of carbon capture and storage (CCS), and offshore marine renewables including wind, wave and tidal energy.
The renewable energy elements of the draft plan/programme cover the relevant parts of the UK exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the territorial waters of England and Wales; for hydrocarbon gas storage it applies to UK waters (territorial waters and the UK EEZ), and for carbon dioxide storage it applies to UK waters (the UK EEZ and territorial waters excluding territorial waters in Scotland) and for hydrocarbon exploration and production it applies to UK territorial sea and the UK continental shelf.
An eight-week public consultation on the OESEA3 environmental report closed on 29 April 2016. All comments received on the draft plan/programme and the environmental report have been considered by the Department and a post-consultation report for OESEA3 has been prepared and placed on the gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/offshore-energy-strategic-environmental-assessment-sea-an-overview-of-the-sea-process. This summarises stakeholder comments and the Department’s clarifications and responses to them. The environmental report and the comments received have informed the Department’s decision on whether to proceed with the draft plan/programme.
The Department has decided to adopt the draft plan/programme, with the area offered restricted spatially through the exclusion of certain areas together with a number of mitigation measures to prevent, reduce and offset significant adverse impacts on the environment and other users of the sea. On the basis of the evidence set out in the environmental report, which discussed the alternatives to the chosen approach, and the comments received during consultation, the Department concludes that there are no overriding environmental considerations that would prevent the achievement of our draft plan/programme of offshore marine renewables leasing (wind, wave and tidal technologies), offshore oil and gas licensing, and offshore gas storage and carbon dioxide storage leasing/licensing, provided appropriate measures are implemented that prevent, reduce and offset significant adverse impacts on the environment and other users of the sea. In all cases, the relevant competent authority should undertake any appropriate assessments(s) prior to awarding licences or leases, where screening shows this to be necessary. This meets the requirements of EU Council directive 2009/147/EC 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. Although the UK has recently voted in favour of leaving the European Union, there will be no immediate changes in the way the UK undertakes its obligations under EU legislation. The adoption of the draft plan/programme demonstrates we are continuing to deliver on our energy and climate change agenda.
The environmental report sets out the environmental considerations relevant to the plan/programme in more detail and section 6.1 includes recommendations that take into account these environmental considerations. The post-consultation report responds to comments made on a number of environmental considerations, which have also been taken into account.
The Department will monitor the significant environmental effects of the implementation of the plan/ programme, as described in section 6.2 of the environmental report.
OESEA3 paves the way for the Oil and Gas Authority to make preparations for further rounds of offshore licensing for oil and gas and to consider future licence applications for gas storage and carbon dioxide storage to ensure that the UK continues to have a diverse, affordable and reliable mix of energy sources as we continue to move towards a low-carbon economy. The Oil and Gas Authority is currently an Executive agency of the Department, but it is expected to become a Government company later this year.
OESEA3 also paves the way for future leasing for offshore marine renewables, including wind, wave and tidal which will contribute to the UK renewable energy targets. The environmental report highlights that siting and consenting processes for offshore renewable energy developments must remain flexible to allow for technological innovation, including any mitigation measures.