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Oil and Gas Overlaps: Offshore Wind Projects

Volume 750: debated on Friday 24 May 2024

The North Sea Transition Authority has announced three tranches of licences from the 33rd oil and gas licensing round. Production from these licences will support our world-class oil and gas industry and help maintain the UK’s energy security. Data published by the Climate Change Committee shows that the UK will continue to need oil and gas, alongside abatement technologies, even when we reach net zero in 2050.

A number of licences from the third tranche of the 33rd oil and gas licensing round have direct overlaps with, or come within 500 metres of, areas which are already under agreement for offshore wind development. It is important to note that the oil and gas licences grant exclusivity to explore the licence area, but they do not confer consent for any operational activity. This would require separate consents from the North Sea Transition Authority.

Oil and gas developments and offshore wind developments already co-exist and my expectation is that they will continue to do so. Oil and gas developers and offshore wind developers are already expected, through their respective consenting and stewardship processes, to take account of other projects when planning their developments.

To give greater reassurance to affected offshore wind developers that oil and gas licensees will take account of their developments, and to promote co-existence, the North Sea Transition Authority has introduced a new clause in relevant licences following discussions with the Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland. The new clause will require the oil or gas licensee to have a co-location agreement with the affected offshore wind developer in place before any operational activity can take place in that licence area, which includes seismic surveying, drilling exploratory wells or installing subsea or surface infrastructure.

Co-location agreements will be the way forward for resolving any issues arising from overlaps and I expect all parties to engage constructively, to act in good faith and to behave reasonably when approaching discussions on co-location. Where there are difficulties in reaching a suitable co-location agreement, the parties should first seek independent mediation or discuss a way forward with the North Sea Transition Authority and the Crown Estate or Crown Estate Scotland.

Some stakeholders have asked about the role of the oil and gas clause in Crown Estate leases in the event an oil or gas developer asks for it to be used. This clause allows the Crown Estates to determine an agreement for lease or lease, in whole or in part, at my request where this is necessary to enable an oil or gas project to proceed. This clause has never been used and no oil or gas developer has ever asked, a Secretary of State to determine an offshore wind lease.

I would like to clarify that there should be no assumption that oil and gas has primacy over offshore wind, or vice versa. In the highly unlikely event that I receive a request from an oil or gas developer to ask the Crown Estates to determine an offshore wind lease, there should also be no assumption that I would agree to do so. In line with previous Government guidance, it would only be used in very exceptional circumstances, only after all avenues for co-existence had been explored and only after appropriate compensation for the offshore wind developer had been assured. For the sake of clarity, I would like to emphasise that co-location agreements will be the primary mechanism for resolving any issues arising from overlaps.

The previous guidance on the oil and gas clause in Crown Estate leases was published in 2014 and I recognise that the oil and gas industry, the offshore wind industry and UK energy policy have all changed significantly since then. My officials will consult with the North Sea Transition Authority, the Crown Estate, Crown Estate Scotland, Scottish Government, the offshore wind industry and the oil and gas industry on appropriate changes to the 2014 guidance in order to incorporate the new requirements on co-location agreements and to reflect wider updates since the guidance was published.