Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 4th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, I rise briefly before the House commences Committee to raise a very serious objection and concern that relates to the Bill. At present we do not have the impact assessment for the Bill, which we were promised before our deliberations began, and they begin now. I would like to hear from the Minister why this delay has happened—in fact, why the Bill was not published with an impact assessment in the first place. I also seek assurances that when the impact assessment is published, it will contain full details of the assumptions on which the Bill is based. Namely, there is the Government’s continued assertion that we are on track to meet our renewables targets, which relates to Part 4. That is incredibly important and sensitive, since we have had many representations from industry about the impact of the Bill. It should be recalled that those elements of the Bill were not subject to public consultation, so the impact assessment is incredibly important for us to be able to consider the impact of the Bill. The other assumption that the Government now seem often to quote is that the levy control framework is spent and there is no more money left. We need to see details of those assumptions and the figures that underlie them but we do not have an impact assessment. I am very concerned about this issue and I look forward to a response from the Minister.
My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of my noble friend Lady Worthington because this is not just an isolated example of the Government treating this House, and Parliament, in a cavalier fashion. If I may give another example, next week we were due to have a debate on English votes for English laws. It was promised again and again by the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell—I notice that she has disappeared—yet it has been switched. We are to have a debate on the size of the House, which is not an immediately urgent matter, yet the Commons will make a decision at some point about English votes for English laws and we were given the assurance that we would be able to feed into that. My understanding—I hope that the Chief Whip will answer this—is that the decision to move the debate on English votes for English laws off the agenda for next week was taken unilaterally by the Government and that when the Opposition were consulted, we said that we did not want to change. We wanted to have the English votes for English laws debate because it was promised to this House. That is another example of the cavalier way in which the Government treat this House, wanting to bulldoze their business through. It is about time that some people in this House stood up and said that Parliament has a responsibility to challenge the Government. The Leader of the House may think that we should come in only one day a week when we want to say a few words but we are here to hold the Government to account.
The noble Lord has asked that I say something about the decision to change the agenda for the coming two weeks to allow the House to discuss the whole business of its membership. I think the House is acutely conscious of the issues raised in the media and by other noble Lords. I felt it was right and proper, as did the Leader of the House, that we should have an opportunity to debate this while we are here. As the noble Lord will know, we had promised a debate on EVEL. He made a point about that. Subsequently, this House decided to support very strongly a Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for a Joint Committee of both Houses to consider this matter. There has been no reply to this Motion from the House of Commons and, in the absence of a reply, if I am honest, there is not much that the Government could say in this House on this issue at this time.
I felt it was proper that we should deal with something of immediate concern to this House. That is why the Leader informed all sides of the House. There were consultations and there were reservations about changing business, but nobody does this freely or without proper consideration of what is right and proper. I am sure all noble Lords are pleased that we will have the opportunity to debate in full the future of this House and its future reform in terms of the Motion tabled by the Government and the Motions of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which will be debated at the same time next Tuesday.
My Lords, perhaps I may address the points raised quite fairly by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, in relation to the Energy Bill and the impact assessment. I had anticipated that we would have an impact assessment on the Bill by this stage, to be published ahead of Committee. I have been chasing the matter through the Recess, including this morning. I heard just before I came in that it has now been cleared on the Oil and Gas Authority. We have instructed that it be separated because the issue that caused the delay was the dialogue about the grace period on wind. No later than tomorrow, we will publish the impact assessment, which the noble Baroness has rightly been chasing. I hope that satisfies the noble Baroness.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Transfer of functions to the OGA
1: Clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State shall, within one year from the date of coming into force of this section, undertake an assessment of the fitness for purpose of the OGA’s powers in relation to relevant activities, and shall lay before each House of Parliament a report of the findings.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and for chasing the impact assessment. Can I take it that the full impact assessment will be published tomorrow, or will it be just the oil and gas part? Perhaps he could clarify that point for me.
Looking at Clause 2, our Amendment 1 is essentially a probing amendment but it is intended to enable us to debate this part of the Bill. At Second Reading, several noble Lords raised the fact that things are changing fast in the North Sea and in the oil and gas sector more generally. We have an undertaking to implement the findings of the Wood review and I am sure the cross-party consensus on that remains strong. However, the Wood review was published in June 2013. Here we are in September 2015 and the pace of change since that date has been quite remarkable.
We are seeing a steady decline in North Sea production. Outputs of oil and gas are already around 40% lower than in 2010 and lower than at any time since 1977. The first quarter of this year marked the seventh consecutive month in which the UK has been a net importer of petroleum, after having been a net exporter since 1984. The figures for 2014 show that the oil and gas sector as a whole lost £5.2 billion—its worst figure since the 1970s—and total revenues were lower than at any time since 1998 at £24 billion. I quote these figures, which were sourced from DECC’s own analysis, to highlight how things are changing in this sector and in the North Sea specifically.
The other new element is that decommissioning is now a reality and is starting to incur costs. There was a feeling a few years ago that decommissioning was the beginning of the end. Now it is being seen as the beginning of a new industry and there is considerable decommissioning activity going on, not least because many of these assets have been in place for decades, perhaps well beyond their imagined timespan. They are therefore reaching the end of their usable lives, even if we wished to keep using them. The purpose of the amendment, then, is to ask for a report to Parliament on the fitness of the powers now being created for the OGA. We have suggested that it should be produced within six months but we do not have a fixed view; a year would be equally fine. However, we must make sure that we set off on the creation of this new quango or arm’s-length body with the right set of objectives.
We will debate amendments later today where we will talk more about the need to update the objectives, particularly in relation to the storage and transportation of waste greenhouse gases. It seems clear that, as we look at the implications of climate change, which are now uncontested—I think it is settled that we need to decarbonise our energy systems—that will change the economics of all fossil fuel activity. If we are to meet our targets, either we will be forced to decarbonise our use of fossil fuels using CCS or we will see a drastic reduction in the demand for those products. Either of those has significant implications for the UK economy and for the oil and gas sector, hence the desire to table an amendment that enables us to have this debate and to require that the OGA be kept up to date with the most recent developments in this sector.
As I have said, oil and gas prices have fallen and there seems to be no sign of their coming back up again any time soon—of course these prices fluctuate but this now seems to be a systemic drop—so we must have a body with the right remit and objectives to do the job of making sure that, while we maximise the economic return from the North Sea, we accept that this may not be solely through the recovery of hydrocarbons but might, of necessity, require a completely new industry that not only extracts hydrocarbons but returns the waste gases to under the sea. We are blessed with a natural repository for many billions of tonnes of waste greenhouse gases, which I am certain we will need if we want to keep the costs of decarbonisation under control and ensure that we are decarbonising cost-effectively.
I shall speak also to Amendment 3 in this group. Amendment 1 requires a report to be made on the fitness of purpose of these powers, but Amendment 3 is more specific and seeks to change the primary objectives of the OGA to include CO2 transportation and storage. It would negate the need for many of the subsequent amendments that we will talk about today because it would bring about a high-level change which would mean that we would not have to catch lots of subsequent clauses and add references to CCS and storage and transportation to the powers being taken here. Many amendments that we will come to today relate to how, as drafted, there is reference back to the principal objective of the Bill and the fact that currently that principal objective does not include the transportation and storage of CO2. Therefore, many of the amendments are trying to reinsert it. We could take another approach, such as the one set out in Amendment 3, which is simply to change the primary objective. There is merit in our discussing that, particularly as CCS offers a lifeline for the future development of hydrocarbon use in the UK by being able largely to decarbonise our use of those fuels.
CCS is essential in that it will enable us to keep using hydrocarbons but, as I alluded to earlier, it is equally important to keeping the costs of decarbonisation contained. At the global level, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that if we do not have CCS on a global scale, we are likely to see the costs of decarbonisation being double what they would be otherwise, while in the UK the Energy Technologies Institute has estimated that without CCS, by 2050 the costs of decarbonising to reach our targets could be in the order of £40 billion to £50 billion a year more than if CCS is deployed.
This is an important and timely subject. We are seeing projects in the UK moving forward to deployment to enable us to make use of the North Sea. I am sure that the OGA will say, “We would rather have our remit nice and narrow; please leave us alone”. That is fine, but we are moving to a time when the social contract between the citizens and taxpayers of the UK and the offshore oil and gas operators is changing. The oil and gas industry largely used to get on with what it was doing—delivering us rather nice, large sources of tax revenue—and everyone was happy. That is shifting. The revenues are falling, as we have seen in recent years, decommissioning costs are rising and the OGA itself, as we will come to debate later this afternoon, will potentially receive public funding to go about its business. This is no longer purely a commercially focused sector and it requires government to intervene to help it. It has the opportunity to receive public funding—the oil and gas operators already receive generous tax breaks that enable them to offset their decommissioning costs. The social licence between us, the citizens of the UK, and the offshore oil and gas operators is shifting. We need to make sure that the OGA reflects that change of balance and takes on a role fit for the 21st century.
We should always consider very carefully when we create new public sector costs. The Government have pointed out on numerous occasions that we are living through a time of austerity, and it seems a bit strange that we should be creating a new area of public spending here without requiring this to be a comprehensive body that takes into account a whole range of views and issues and keeps pace with current events. As good as it was, the Wood review—which I am sure will continue to receive cross-Bench support—is over two years old, and two years has been shown to be quite a long time in the oil and gas sector, hence the need for these two amendments. I look forward to the Minister’s response and I beg to move.
My Lords, I will say a few words in support of the spirit, at any rate, of this amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I declare an interest as chairman of the Windsor Energy Group, adviser to various energy companies, as in the register, and president of the Energy Industries Council. As the noble Baroness has rightly said, this is a sensible requirement for the future because, as she has also said, the North Sea is a mature province and the industry is clearly undergoing huge change—probably the biggest period of change since the 1970s and early 1980s. Most of the talk in the industry at the moment is about the impact of the halving of the oil price. Even in this morning’s papers, we see some pronouncements by experts on the possibility of whole areas of the North Sea shutting down unless completely new arrangements and management structures can be devised to cope with the new situation.
Obviously, behind this lies the question of whether the price will stay down. My own view is that, barring high-impact events like huge new political upheavals beyond the ones we already have in the Middle East, there will be no obvious bounceback in the price for a very long time. People talk as though the OPEC countries had some choice of policy—they could just cut production and the price would go up. Well of course that would not happen. They have lost control of the price. Russia has no intention of co-operating, and the shale industry in America, although there have been a few bankruptcies, will come back again and increase production as soon as the price rises. So the OPEC countries would gain nothing. Iran of course may be coming on stream as well. All this means that the industry in the North Sea is now facing a period when, on the supply side, there will be a lot more oil. On the demand side, there will probably be rather flat demand, whether from China, from Japan—which is going back to nuclear so will not need so much—or, indeed, from the United States or us, where the demand for oil is flat or even falling.
This is a completely new management challenge. We must have some reassurance, at least in a year’s time but preferably from the start, that the new regulatory authority—the OGA, with its expanded powers into a separate agency, as is now proposed—has the facilities, opportunities and abilities to manage completely new requirements. We have to see a province that is going to adapt to low prices, that develops completely new opportunities and new technologies, not unrelated to the points made by the noble Baroness about the possible disposal of carbon dioxide through CCS techniques, and that learns from other countries. Norway in particular may have a lesson or two for us on how to maintain a mature province and develop new opportunities at sea.
When I had some responsibility for these things in the 1980s, I was told that the oil in the North Sea was going to run out in 1989. That was the experts’ forecast, but it turned out to be spectacularly wrong. Today we have seen a fantastic triumph of UK engineering over 20 or 30 years, a vast contribution to our revenue—I think it is estimated in today’s money at about £330 billion—and we have seen the ability of the industry to cut costs in the face of new challenges. It will have to cut costs dramatically in the immediate future if many areas are to stay in business. It will need major help with decommissioning, which would have arisen whether or not the oil price had fallen because a lot of the platforms and infrastructure in the North Sea are coming to the end of their life.
We will need to see much greater emphasis on and encouragement for rapid and extensive new drilling. We are not drilling nearly enough in the North Sea, and again the Norwegians could teach us a thing or two about this. The incentives for new drilling seem to be much too targeted and fussy, and perhaps should be more general and allow all kinds of new innovations in drilling and discovery to go on. Various figures are given but there are said to be between 12 billion and 24 billion barrels of oil still in the North Sea. This is big money, and that oil could still contribute a vast amount to both our revenues and our national production.
Against that background, we certainly need to see in a year’s time another very close review of how the new Oil and Gas Authority is getting on. I hope therefore that either the amendment or its spirit can be accepted and incorporated by Ministers.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 7, 22 and 23 in this group. The main purpose of the Bill is the more efficient and effective management of the remaining resources in the North Sea, and it seems sensibly directed towards that end. However, it is important to remember, as others have touched on, that the Bill has enormous implications for the fledgling CCS industry. CCS is able to use the same infrastructure that was used for production and the same subsurface analysis, and it is important that it has access to those.
Before I go any further I should declare an interest as president of the Carbon Capture & Storage Association. Perhaps it is worth pointing out that I helped to establish this association around 10 years ago, just as I retired from Shell, because I saw no alternative to CCS—no other way of managing the emissions that were going to be produced by the continuing use of hydrocarbons over the coming decades, and avoiding the damaging climate change associated with those, unless we had something like CCS. For that reason, it is important that we bear this in mind today.
I hope that the Government will regard the amendments as helpful; they are certainly intended to be. Their main aim is to ensure that CCS is not inadvertently inhibited or prevented through the application of regulations and procedures that were not designed for those purposes. The Bill is based around the pre-existing Energy Act, by which CCS was not envisaged.
Amendment 7 is designed to remind the OGA that, over time, its priorities may change. The OGA is primarily staffed by people whose backgrounds are in a variety of aspects of hydrocarbon exploration, production, management and regulation. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that CCS is not at the forefront of their thinking. It is quite important that this should be made clear, and that is what the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, does.
Amendments 22 and 23 are both intended to ensure that practitioners of CCS have the appropriate standing and access in order to operate efficiently and effectively when doing their business. It is apparent from the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and other noble Lords that this concern is fairly widely held. Had this debate not been held today there might have been much more opportunity for Members with such concerns to consult with each other, with officials and with Ministers and we might well have ended up with fewer and more coherent amendments. We are where we are, but this is a real concern.
Given that CCS is a central plank in the Government’s energy strategy I hope that they will view these amendments positively. The amendments can certainly be improved and if the same objectives can be achieved in a more efficient way, I and, I am sure, others would be very happy to discuss this matter with Ministers and officials.
My final point is a trivial one in one sense but not in another. The Bill refers in a number of places to existing legislation—earlier energy Bills. It would be enormously helpful if officials preparing Explanatory Notes, who must have immersed themselves in the existing legislation, were able to include links in the Explanatory Notes to the online sources where that existing legislation can be found. We could all save a great deal of time and probably quite a lot of paper by following such links directly.
My Lords, I will not delay the House long because what I wanted to say has been said much more eloquently by my noble friend Lady Worthington and by the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Oxburgh. To echo the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, giving us some indication of the reference points in previous energy legislation really would make life a lot easier for all of us.
My primary point is that this is an opportunity for some lateral thinking. For those of us who have been listening to the trailers for Jim Naughtie’s programme about the North Sea over a period of 40 to 50 years of exploration, it is astonishing to recognise the change that has taken place just in the past two to five years, or slightly longer. The major change has been that many of the larger oil companies have reduced their footprint in the North Sea and we have seen the entry of a number of independents. As the Wood report set out the case for setting up a regime of collaboration, it is important to bear in mind that for the independents, who are competitors one with another, it can be harder to get that degree of co-operation at the moment, when the North Sea is becoming more difficult. So would it not make sense to review where we are in a year’s time to make sure that we do not have to have yet another energy Bill before both Houses? The change is phenomenal, and we must be prepared for it at every opportunity.
I greatly admire the work of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, on carbon capture and storage. It is the holy grail for this country, which has so much fossil fuel. I am very concerned about the environmental impact of the continuing use of fossil fuels, but I am also concerned about security of supply issues. The flexibility that fossil fuels can give us when there is a potential security of supply crisis is very important, and we will take a lot of the sting out of the tail if we have operational carbon capture and storage.
This is not a political issue—it should not be a partisan issue across this House. This is a common-sense group of amendments that allows us a bit of lateral thinking and allows us to make legislation at a time when considerable change is still going on, not just in the UK continental shelf but across the energy industry.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Committee on Climate Change. I echo the words of the noble Baroness that this is not a party-political issue but is much wider than that.
As was clearly shown by my noble friend, we live at a time in which the issue of energy, in particular oil and gas, is changing so fast that we have to be extremely careful that we do not set up systems that are not capable of easing alteration to meet new circumstance. It may be that the major Amendment 1, which was proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, is not something that the Government will wish to be tied to; the particular time and so on might well be better expressed. However, I hope that the Government will take seriously the need to have within this legislation the means whereby this House can address the speed with which these things are changing and have the opportunity to make such alterations as become necessary—because we all know that however well one writes legislation, it is surprisingly easy to move to a situation in which you wonder why on earth you did not put that in, or why on earth that was not there.
Secondly, it would be very odd to produce legislation that did not allow specifically for the transportation and storage of greenhouse gases. This will not change in the future; it is central at the present time. The Committee on Climate Change has advised the Government of the importance and centrality of carbon capture and storage for many of the reasons that have already been addressed. However, the noble Baroness was right to say that there may well be an interim period in which we will need to use more fossil fuels than we would like, and the only way we can do that without having a damaging effect on the climate is of course by using carbon capture and storage. Britain has a leadership role in that and has already committed significant amounts of money to seek to ensure that we can do it. It would be simply odd to produce a Bill at this moment without enabling ourselves specifically to talk about carbon capture and storage.
Thirdly, it is important that this is in the Bill itself. I spent a long time as a Minister—some 16 years—and one thing I learned very rapidly was that it is very easy for institutions to say, “It’s nothing to do with us because it isn’t in the Act; that’s not where our responsibility lies”. I remember very nearly having a stand-up row with the person who was then responsible for the gas industry, because what should be done seemed so obvious, and she was determined to say that she could not do it because it was not in the Act. I thought that with a bit of imagination she would be able to do it, but that is a different issue. I do not want the need for imagination to be required here. It is one of the rarest talents and therefore it is a quite a good idea to make sure that we put into the Bill the ability—and also insist that it is part of the responsibility—of the new institution.
Lastly, I want to echo the comment about the people who will naturally be at the heart of this process. All of us are creatures of our experience and knowledge and all of us find ourselves more at home with the things with which we are at home. In this particular area it is easy to have reached the sort of level that would mean that we would be suitable for work in this new authority without perhaps spending a great deal of time on carbon capture and storage. So there is a serious reason why we should add to the Bill in this way and I hope that my noble friend, if not necessarily agreeing to any of these amendments—and, like others, I say that it is a collection that might well have been brought together more effectively—will say, to benefit the Committee, that he will bring forward amendments to at least ensure that the transportation and storage of greenhouse gases becomes a serious part of the activities that we are discussing today.
My Lords, we on these Benches very much share the concerns voiced in all parts of the House today about this Bill. It may have two main parts—on the oil and gas industry, and onshore wind—but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, that we have been asked to deal with it in a very unsatisfactory way. We had Second Reading on the last day of Parliament before the summer recess, and here we are in Committee today. I find that quite difficult.
In addition, amendments were tabled in the middle of last week and we still do not have some of the information we need to look at the Bill properly in Committee—and it is not just me saying this. Other people may have big offices to help them, but the beauty of this House is that we have lots of Back-Benchers with expertise who would like to take part in debates such as this; if we treat Bills in this way, it is very difficult for them to take part. I feel particularly strongly about energy Bills. Some of us have dealt with several energy Bills in this House, and we often find that very few people take part. That is partly because such Bills are often technical and, if Back-Benchers are going to take part, they need time to look at what the amendments mean and to get advice on them. I hope the House authorities will look seriously at this issue. I can understand some of the reasons why this has happened, but the situation is very unsatisfactory.
As I said, we agree with many of the things that have been said today. In setting up the Oil and Gas Authority, the Government are proposing, as we heard at Second Reading, to give some of their powers to this body. The Oil and Gas Authority will have ownership of carbon dioxide storage licensing but the responsibility for policy and strategy is going to remain, as I understand it, with DECC. The problems associated with this were highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I understand from briefings I have received that DECC and the Oil and Gas Authority have been rather reluctant to consider applying the authority’s expertise to support future strategy development. I hope the Minister will tell us a little more about that. As the noble Lord said, the main reason seems to be that it is beyond the authority’s licensing remit. The problem is that if people do not think that something is within their remit, they do not think outside the box and they will not do anything else. The authority said that it was not very keen on that happening; it thinks that it is outside the scope of its remit and it is not willing to fund it. I hope the Minister will reassure us on this issue and that, as we scrutinise the Bill not just in Committee but on Report, we can deal with some of these matters. I have also received a rather interesting letter from Professor Stuart Haszeldine of the University of Edinburgh on how we might go forward, and perhaps there will be a chance to discuss that at a future date.
It seems to me and my colleagues on these Benches that there is a danger—I am not the only person to say this today—that the Bill might create institutional barriers to the development of carbon capture and storage. Other noble Lords have said today that that does not help us with the purpose of the Oil and Gas Authority, which is to make sure that we make the best of what is in the North Sea. I am sure that the Minister will try to respond to that.
Many of the amendments before us today cover these issues—as everybody has said, we have a whole series of amendments on the same area—and had we not been so rushed into considering the Bill, we might have been able to address them more logically. However, I hope that the Minister will sense the feeling of the Committee and be able to respond positively. I hope he will assure us that he and the department are considering these matters, so that we can put such concerns to rest and come forward with something a bit more sensible on Report.
My Lords, perhaps I may first pick up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington on the impact assessment. It is only by splitting the impact assessment between the parts of the Bill dealing with oil and gas, and those dealing with wind, that we are able to publish tomorrow the impact assessment relating to the Oil and Gas Authority. I will update the Committee on Wednesday on where we are on the wind issue and on the dialogue about grace periods.
I thank noble Lords for the amendments and for the non-partisan way in which points have been made. I do not think there is a material difference—certainly not from the speeches I have heard today—between the Government’s position on the importance of CCS and points made by noble Lords today. The best way forward might be if I go through where we stand at the moment in relation to the various amendments, and where we might be by Report.
My noble friends Lord Deben and Lord Howell, the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, the noble Baronesses, Lady Worthington and Lady Liddell, and various others spoke about the non-partisan nature of getting it right on energy for this country and for the planet—that is a very useful way forward and we certainly have a shared interest in it.
Let me address the pot pourri of amendments in this group. On Amendment 1, I acknowledge that it is important that regulatory measures be kept under review and for Parliament to be informed of the outcome of such activities. I also acknowledge the point made about the rapid nature of change in this area and in many other areas.
The noble Baroness’s amendment would require a review to be undertaken within one year—rather than the six months that she mentioned; perhaps I misunderstood her—of the coming into force of Clause 2. Neither I nor the department think that such a period is sufficient to enable an effective review of the Oil and Gas Authority’s activities, it being a new body in a new area. For this reason, I am not able to accept the amendment. However, the noble Baroness and others have raised interesting and valid points about a review which my officials are already considering, and we will return to this topic on Report. I hope that that addresses the immediate concerns. It is clear that we need to see how the legislation is working, how effective it is and whether there may be a need for a touch on the tiller or more. I accept that there is some need to look at how the legislation is working.
I thank those noble Lords who spoke to Amendments 3 and 23, which are significant and would extend the maximising economic recovery principal objective and, in the case of Amendment 3, the subsequent strategy to include transportation and storage of carbon dioxide. I accept that CCS is central to what we are seeking to do on decarbonisation, but I reassure noble Lords that things are happening—it is not as though we are not doing anything on this issue. The Office of Carbon Capture and Storage is already committed to comprehensive programmes on CCS, perhaps the most comprehensive anywhere in the world, to support the commercialisation of the technology and develop the industry.
My noble friend Lord Howell mentioned Norway, which is indeed important. However, Canada—where it is working on a commercial basis—is especially important in this context. Officials from DECC are going out to look at this on a fairly regular and sustained basis.
It is not as though no work is happening on carbon capture and storage. We are committed to a competition with up to £1 billion capital—that is current, and we will make an announcement on it early in 2016—plus operational support for large carbon capture and storage projects and a £125 million research and development and innovation programme. That is already happening.
I accept that we need to ensure that this dovetails with the work done by the Oil and Gas Authority. From my study of it, the Wood review—I accept that things move very quickly—said only two things about CCS, which perhaps illustrates how quickly it is moving, and both those are being picked up. The review suggested that the Oil and Gas Authority should work with industry to develop a technology strategy that will underpin the UK strategy of maximising economic return, and should include enhanced oil recovery and carbon capture and storage. A draft is already being prepared on that, and it is going to happen. Page 49 of the Wood review goes on to say that the Office of Carbon Capture and Storage should continue to work closely with the Oil and Gas Authority and oil and gas licensees,
“to examine the business case for the use of depleted reservoirs for carbon storage and possibly EOR”—
or enhanced oil recovery. That, too, will be happening. I am sure that that provides some reassurance to the noble Lords who raised this issue.
If I may, I will come back to the purpose of the Bill, which seeks to incorporate all the key proposals of the Wood review into legislation. The Wood review has therefore to some extent tested and explored the new regime envisaged for the oil and gas industry, and the justifications for such changes are set out in the document. There has been no such exploration of how such an extension would affect carbon capture and storage, so I believe that more time is needed to consider fully how the OGA can take forward its role—it does have a role—in supporting carbon capture and storage.
Would it not therefore be valuable if we give the new authority specifically the powers to do precisely that, rather than say that we will work on it and then do it? After all, if we give it those powers, work on it, and then find that it is not necessary, it will not do any harm. I always wonder why we do not do the things that will not do any harm when they might do some good.
As my noble friend I think knows, I am always in favour of doing things that would do good and against things that would do harm. Therefore, I will, I hope, be coming on to some points that may provide some reassurance.
Amendments at this stage could cause delays to the strategy that is set out in the Wood review and the legislation enabling the Oil and Gas Authority to carry out the vital functions that we have set out in regulating and stewarding the United Kingdom continental shelf. That said, the Oil and Gas Authority will have a key role in relation to carbon capture and storage. It will issue carbon dioxide storage site licences and approve carbon dioxide storage permit applications. We are also considering—this is important—how carbon capture and storage may be considered as part of a proposed decommissioning plan. The Oil and Gas Authority will take into account the viability of utilising captured carbon dioxide in enhanced oil recovery projects. I am very happy to engage with noble Lords between Committee and Report, along with officials, to see how we can do that. I hope that that provides some reassurance.
In addition, the transfer and storage of carbon dioxide is an important technology, which is why it is likely to form a key element of the technology and decommissioning sector strategies that will be developed by the Oil and Gas Authority in consultation with industry. These strategies will help to underpin the overarching strategy related to maximising economic recovery. I can therefore reassure noble Lords that we are certainly open to looking at how we move this forward, but I do not want to give the impression that we will change the principal thrust of the primary object of the Act, which is to maximise economic recovery. Certainly, we can explore ways of seeing how we can ensure that carbon capture and storage is incorporated within the remit of the work done by the Oil and Gas Authority.
I hope that I have covered the key points. One point was made by my noble friend Lord Oxburgh and echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, which as a Minister I have much sympathy with. That is making sure that we have some clear reference points on legislation. I hope that we can let noble Lords have that because it is a point well made in this area as no doubt in many others—taxation, company law and pensions spring to mind as just three areas that would benefit very clearly. With my assurance that we are happy to look at how we can move this forward on both of the points made—a timely look at the legislation and how we can ensure that carbon capture and storage is not forgotten, and we certainly do not intend that it should be—I hope that the noble Baroness will be willing to withdraw her amendment.
Can I press the Minister a shade more on something that we tend to forget when we debate these great issues of carbon capture and the future of the industry, and that is cost? It has been estimated that about £40 billion will be required to handle the decommissioning of outdated, redundant infrastructure in the North Sea. This whole process may be greatly accelerated if, as I earlier predicted, oil prices stay well down or go very much further down than they are already in the next four or five years. There is a huge cost there.
There is obviously vast cost involved in the piping of CO2 into the North Sea, if that is the technology used, although brilliant minds like those of my noble friend Lord Oxburgh have thought of new ways of handling carbon without having to pipe it away into the North Sea into reservoirs. In some cases, reservoirs have to be suitably designed both to enhance oil production and to store the CO2. All of these involve huge sums, which have not been mentioned. On top of that, the Government appear to be thinking in terms of further tax reliefs of all kinds in the North Sea, and I hope a great simplification of tax—it has been obvious that we have needed that for the past five or six years and I am glad that it is coming now, but again that is a lost revenue. Should we not give a little attention, as we push forward with this major reorganisation of the administration of North Sea and UK continental shelf affairs, to the enormous sums and where they will come from? I imagine that the answer is probably from the consumer and energy prices, but the Government have a duty to the public to explain some of the implications of what is now unfolding before us, including that colossal figure for decommissioning.
My Lords, my noble friend makes a valid point about the decommissioning costs and costs in general, which are very much at the forefront of the Government’s thinking. He will be aware that the Oil and Gas Authority is essentially being paid for by the industry. Other than initial seed- corn support of a small amount from the Government and the Government conceivably stepping in in an emergency situation, it is self-financing. But there are aspects that we will come to later in the legislation that talk about the public purse, this being one consideration that has to be borne in mind in relation to relevant activities. I need no persuading that costs are central to what we are looking at here.
My Lords, the Minister has said that he is unhappy about having a review within a year, which is too soon. I can understand that, but can we press the Minister to come back with a suggestion of two years? Having followed other Bills through, I fear that this period will get extended. I hope that serious thought can be given, between now and Report, to putting forward a time before the final stages of the Bill are considered.
I thank my noble friend. I do not want to give a figure on the hoof; I am sure noble Lords would appreciate that that would be dangerous. We can look at this clearly between now and Report. If we are going to have a review we will have to say when it should take place. I would not anticipate coming back without a definitive idea of that.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, which has demonstrated the breadth of opinion and the cross-party consensus on the need for the Bill to be amended to ensure that carbon capture and storage—or certainly the storage and transportation elements of it—is on the face of the Bill, for the avoidance of all doubt. On these Benches, we will not be content for the Bill to leave this House without that issue being addressed. That said, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I look forward to sitting down and engaging in the discussions he offered with officials and interested parties to see if we can come to an agreement on the review period for the legislation and the objective of the OGA. I understand the points that have been made, but if you create a body that has licensing powers over the storage of CO2, which may well involve itself in meetings in relation to storage and transportation and which may be charging fees, how can this all be possible unless its primary objective includes a reference to that? The potential for judicial reviews or objections from industry would be much wider if we do not make it crystal clear from the outset that this is what we intend the OGA to do. The noble Lord has referenced the fact that this will be self-financing, but government amendments to be tabled today would mean that public money was potentially being given to the OGA. I reiterate that we will not be content unless something appears on the face of the Bill, but I look forward to sitting down with the Minister and his officials and, on that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
I join the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, in thanking those who have participated in the debate and the Minister for his reply. I have one final question for him. Have the officials in his department conducted a study of how the Bill might impact CCS? There are serious questions there: if they have not done that, could they do so? It would be extremely useful as a lead-in to the next stage.
In answer to the noble Lord, officials have certainly been looking at how CSS fits in and dovetails with the Bill. We will continue to consider that and look at it if we are able to engage in discussions between now and Report. I am grateful for the noble Lord’s comments.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Schedule: Transfer of functions to the OGA
1A: The Schedule, page 38, line 37, at end insert—
“( ) Omit paragraph 1(2).”
My Lords, Amendments 1A to 1F and Amendment 43 seek to amend the Schedule to the Bill to make amendments to other Acts and the Title of the Bill. Because the power for the Oil and Gas Authority to charge fees is provided for in Amendment 16, Amendments 1A to 1D are required. In particular, we amend the power to charge in Section 188 of the Energy Act 2004 and remove some other powers to charge fees. This illustrates the points that were made about the need for a destination table.
Amendment 1E amends the Schedule to insert a definition of the Oil and Gas Authority into the Energy Act 2011. This is consequential on government Amendments 33 and 34 relating to access to upstream petroleum infrastructure and on the transfer of functions to the Oil and Gas Authority in relation to access to upstream petroleum infrastructure. Amendment 1F amends the Schedule to remove the levy provisions from Section 42 and Schedule 7 of the Infrastructure Act 2015. These will be set out with amendments to this Bill—noble Lords should see Amendments 17 and 18—so that those using the legislation can find all the Oil and Gas Authority provisions in one place. I hope that that is helpful.
Amendment 43 amends the Title to include,
“to make provision about rights to use upstream petroleum infrastructure”,
in consequence to Amendments 35 and 36, which insert new clauses on this topic. I beg to move.
Amendment 1A agreed.
Amendments 1B to 1F
1B: The Schedule, page 40, line 7, at end insert—
“Energy Act 2004(1) Section 188 of the Energy Act 2004 (power to impose charges to fund energy functions) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (7), omit paragraphs (b), (h), (m) and (n).
(3) In subsection (8), omit paragraphs (da), (db) and (f).
(4) In subsection (12), in the substituted subsection (7A)(b), for “mentioned in subsection (8)(db)” (in both places) substitute “for which a licence under Chapter 3 of Part 1 of the Energy Act 2008 is required”.”
1C: The Schedule, page 40, line 12, at end insert—
“( ) In that subsection, omit paragraph (e).”
1D: The Schedule, page 41, line 15, at end insert—
“(c) subsection (2)(d) does not apply.”
1E: The Schedule, page 43, line 9, at end insert—
“In section 90(1) (interpretation), after the definition of “gas processing facility” insert—
““the OGA” means the Oil and Gas Authority;”.
1F: The Schedule, page 43, line 9, at end insert—
“Infrastructure Act 2015The Infrastructure Act 2015 is amended as follows.
Omit section 42 (levy on holders of certain energy industry licences).
In section 55(4)(b) (statutory instruments subject to affirmative procedure), omit “or 42(11)”.
Omit Schedule 7 (the licensing levy).”
Amendments 1B to 1F agreed.
Schedule, as amended, agreed.
Clause 3 agreed.
2: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Report to Parliament on decommissioning costs
Within one year of this Act coming into force, and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State shall report to each House of Parliament on estimated decommissioning costs for North Sea oil and gas infrastructure.”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 2 and 9. Amendment 2 is the requirement on the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on an annual basis on the,
“estimated decommissioning costs for North Sea oil and gas infrastructure”.
This amendment has been tabled because an important facet of this debate is that the costs involved are hugely important, which the Minister mentioned earlier. Decommissioning is under way, it is likely to increase over time and we will see bits of infrastructure being removed, which will cause considerable costs to be borne. The upside is that we may well be about to invent a wonderful new industry in which we can get a global lead. The engineering excellence that we have demonstrated in the North Sea will be repurposed and we will apply that knowledge and expertise to the task of decommissioning, which I am sure will stand us in good stead both here and overseas.
However, through the course of my engagement with this Bill, it has come to light that those decommissioning costs will now partly fall on the taxpayer. The Treasury produced an estimate of the costs of decommissioning and how much will be expected to be a burden on the taxpayer. In the five years from now until 2020, HMRC estimates that something in the region of £9 billion will be expended, half of which will fall on the taxpayer. That is not an insubstantial amount of money, particularly as we hear, in the context of energy, an awful lot is made of the cost of the renewables subsidies and the green energy contracts. A levy control framework is applied to those costs. But here we have a liability on the taxpayer for essentially finishing off the job in the North Sea and assisting the oil and gas sector in bearing those costs.
Those costs are quite generous and the way in which they are calculated is that tax can be claimed back through the petroleum revenue tax, the PRT, and the ring-fenced corporation tax, the RFCT. Both provisions are very generous and enable costs to be claimed dating back throughout the time of the activity. They allow the use of retrospective taxation that has been paid to claim tax back against decommissioning costs. This evidently means a loss of revenue to the Exchequer, and therefore extra pressure on taxpayers to make up the difference somewhere else.
I am not saying that the oil and gas sector has not been a great contributor to the British economy. However, as I said in my opening comments, although the oil and gas sector used to be left to its own devices, by and large, and generated a lot of tax revenue, the social contract between us and it is changing, and from now on we will revisit the topic of decommissioning often. The total cost is, of course, an estimate; it may be higher.
The purpose of the amendment is to require some transparency and give us an opportunity to debate the subject. The decommissioning costs would be regularly reported and we could debate the rightness, or otherwise, of continuing the arrangement whereby taxpayers foot the bill for a substantial amount of decommissioning, with a liability that appears—although I would be happy to be contradicted on this—to be relatively unlimited. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that. Is there a back-stop? Is there a point at which we say, “No, we will not pay”?
My second question on the amendment, to which I would welcome an answer from the Minister, is about what happens if a company goes bankrupt. It is unlikely that the big oil majors will disappear overnight—it might take a little longer than that—but we will probably see assets being transferred from some of the big oil majors to smaller organisations, perhaps companies with more appetite for risk or different funding profiles, which can continue to act when the majors might choose otherwise. That raises a risk: what happens if those entities are no longer with us, or get themselves in too deep and find themselves on the point of liquidation? Who will then take on the costs of decommissioning, and what provision is being made to protect the taxpayer in those circumstances? I hope that that will not be the case, but unfortunately we have to imagine the worst—these are turbulent times, and things are changing fast. Amendment 2 is designed to probe on those issues, and I hope I can look forward to some words of reassurance from the Minister.
The second amendment in the group, Amendment 9, relates to the matters that the OGA must take into account under Clause 4. Many more amendments have been tabled to those provisions, and we will debate them in the next group, but Amendment 9 has been grouped under the heading of decommissioning, because it raises an important issue. Obviously some parts of the infrastructure will be able to be reused, both by people seeking to extend the lives of the wells and by those wishing to repurpose them and use them for storage of waste gases, but timing will be an issue. With lower oil prices, decommissioning may be more rapid than we first expected, which could mean infrastructure being removed sooner than we thought it would. We could then be out of step with what we hope will be a new industry to invest in to do with the transportation and storage of waste greenhouse gases.
We want to avoid a situation of accelerated gas decommissioning and possibly delayed carbon capture and storage, although I hope we shall not see that anyway because CCS has been rather slow to start with and should not be delayed any further. Such projects may well come on stream after the decommissioning decisions have been taken, which would be regrettable. I am sure that the Minister will say, as he said about the Wood review, that the OGA is fully cognisant of CCS, but CCS does not appear to be one of the key things to which it has regard. That is the problem. Where we want the OGA to focus on an issue, we should specify that issue in the Bill. A hierarchy of consideration, which requires it at least to think about potential reuse for carbon capture and storage before people press ahead with decommissioning, should be listed as one of the matters to which the OGA must have regard, and that is the purpose of Amendment 9. I beg to move.
My Lords, in case any eyebrows were raised over the apparent difference between the noble Baroness’s figure of £9 billion and my figure of £40 billion, which are slightly different, I should make clear that I think the noble Baroness was talking about the next five years whereas I was talking about the next 25 years, over which time it is estimated that £40 billion will have to be spent removing redundant platforms and pipelines as well as plugging spent oil wells.
My noble friend said that the companies would fund all this. I wonder whether that makes reassuring sense in the light of what the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said about these companies being increasingly strapped for cash. If we are only half right about the evolution of world oil and gas prices—and it looks as though we are going into a period of prolonged glut in that field—the North Sea companies will have very tight budgets. This additional cost—whether it is £9 billion over five years or £40 billion over 25 years—will have to be found from somewhere. As we advance into this era and ask the OGA to take on these new responsibilities, and as we work out the practicalities of CCS, which have not yet all been solved, and the costs of it, we must be careful that we do not store up colossal financial problems for the future that will lead people in years to come to ask why we did not make clearer preparations. I wish to make clear the difference between the two figures of £9 billion and £40 billion and suggest yet again that we focus very carefully on where the money will come from.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her amendment and my noble friend Lord Howell for his comments. Without wishing to be too much of a doomsayer, I appreciate that there is always the chance of any business going into bankruptcy or company going into insolvency. The legal position is that decommissioning costs are picked up by industry under the Petroleum Act 1998—and industry does, of course, get tax relief.
I will address the noble Baroness’s points on Amendments 2 and 9. Minimising the costs of decommissioning in the North Sea to both industry and the taxpayer will be a central focus of the new legislative landscape. It is essential that we create an environment that encourages collaboration and co-operation in order to bring down overall costs. The reuse of viable North Sea infrastructure is a top priority for the Oil and Gas Authority. As I outlined earlier, the Wood review suggested that the Office of Carbon Capture and Storage would work closely with the Oil and Gas Authority in moving this forward. That, indeed, is what is happening in line with the recommendations made by Sir Ian Wood in his review.
That said, I understand the thrust of what is being said and can confirm that decommissioning is high on the Government’s agenda. Obviously there are costs associated with it and it is essential that we do it in the most cost-effective way, bringing in the possibility of reusing decommissioned sites in relation to CCS. I hope that noble Lords have had a letter indicating that the Government will bring forward amendments on decommissioning on Report. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to bring them forward earlier, but it is my intention that these amendments will address the issues of decommissioning costs and the viable reuse of infrastructure in the North Sea. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment. I look forward to debating decommissioning in more detail on Report when government amendments on these issues will be brought forward.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his clarification. He is absolutely correct that, obviously, over a longer time period we will incur higher costs. I thank the Minister for his response. Possibly I did get the letter about the decommissioning amendments. I have to confess it has been a rather chaotic last few weeks so I will look again in my inbox. I would welcome that and I think that this issue must be addressed in the Bill. It is clearly a subject that we are going to see a lot of parliamentary time devoted to. Could the Minister write to me or give me clarification, as soon as possible, about the nature of the liability that taxpayers will face and about any safeguards that will be put in place to prevent it becoming an unlimited liability?
I notice from the industry side that the tax breaks that were granted have been underwritten by private law contracts to avoid any reverses being introduced by subsequent Governments. That seems to be quite a nice safeguard for the industry. As we know, Finance Bills are famous for being quite changeable. In fact, we saw quite a shift from the 2011 Budget where what were described as disastrous tax regimes brought in for the oil and gas sector were rapidly reversed and changed over subsequent Finance Bills. Therefore, one can see why the industry is keen to have these things underwritten and uses private law contracts now for those tax breaks. However, where are the reassurances for the public purse that this will not be a ballooning cost for us over decades to come?
I understand that it should be the industry that pays, but it does receive tax breaks, which amounts to a subsidy from the public purse. However, on the basis that there are amendments coming forward and that we will have another opportunity to debate decommissioning in full, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendment 3 not moved.
Clause 4: Matters to which the OGA must have regard
3A: Clause 4, page 3, line 12, after “from,” insert “its existence and”
My Lords, I begin by declaring my interests, which are in the register, and I have shares in oil companies. I also record my thanks to the Minister and his team for the briefing that they gave us prior to Committee and, indeed, for the follow-up work that I have received from them since. My amendment is a very simple probing amendment. The Minister in his letter stated that minimising public expenditure will be limited to that which arises from the relevant activities because this is the only area in which the OGA can have influence. He further stated that in due course a levy and fees will mean that the industry will pay the OGA’s full costs. Indeed, our discussions earlier were about costs.
However, my concern remains. I do not feel that either the wording of the Bill or the Minister’s interpretation mean that those working in and managing the OGA will have a duty to keep their costs as low as possible. As we said this afternoon, the amount of money coming into oil companies at the moment is so low that it is imperative that the OGA sets the standard of making sure that it does its work efficiently but keeps its cost as low as possible. I am concerned, for example, about the nature of office accommodation—it seems very simple—about location, travel, hotels, publicity and all the other parts that go into making the new OGA work properly.
I also share with colleagues that I have been assured that Treasury rules insist that fees should recover full costs and no more. That, however, does not explicitly cover a levy: nor does it limit spending levels. Therefore, in moving the amendment I still seek assurance that the OGA will have a duty to minimise expenditure on its internal operations. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for introducing her amendment. I shall speak to amendments also in this group: Amendments 5, 6, 8, 20 and 21 in my name and Amendments 4, 10 and 11 in the names of my noble friends Lord Whitty and Lord Grantchester. This could be described as another pot pourri of amendments. I echo the noble Lords who mentioned that, had we had a bit more time and not been caught trying to table all our amendments in the last week of the Recess, we might have come forward with a slightly different grid with different groupings. However, we are where we are. What all these amendments have in common is that they relate to Clauses 4 and 9, which set out the core functions of the OGA and—Clause 9 in particular—the matters to which the OGA should have regard.
I do not intend to go over again the importance of CCS and the need to facilitate development of storage and transportation, as we have obviously rehearsed those arguments. However, if we do not change the primary objective, as set out in the Petroleum Act and amended by the Infrastructure Act, we will probably have to amend the Bill in numerous other places to ensure that CCS is properly taken into account. Clauses 4 and 9 are two places where we would expect something in the Bill to reassure us that this will be taken with due seriousness, and that the OGA will have the right legal backing needed to do its job properly.
Amendment 4, which is in my noble friend Lord Whitty’s name, refers to the need for decarbonisation strategies. Having spoken to him, I know that the purpose of probing on this is that it is absolutely clear that, as we face climate change and start to absorb the implications of what we need to do, there is a great need for a holistic view of our pursuit and extraction of hydrocarbons. We are either going to change drastically our demand for hydrocarbons by moving into other sources of energy, or we will be capturing and storing the waste gases and putting them somewhere where they are not released into the atmosphere. I think both have quite profound implications and it is right that the OGA must have regard to the meeting of climate change targets and carbon budgets, and to the need for decarbonisation of energy. This is meant to be a Bill for the 21st century, not for the last century. Therefore, if we are to list specific areas to which the OGA must have regard, it would seem odd if climate change mitigation and decarbonisation were not specifically mentioned.
Amendment 5, which is in my name, is, as I said, an alternate way of ensuring that geological carbon storage is included within the matters to which the OGA has regard. Amendment 6 is similar to Amendment 4 in that it asks for consideration of the Climate Change Act and the targets within it.
We then turn to Amendment 10, which is in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty and refers to energy efficiency. I think I am right to say that my noble friend would have preferred to write a wider amendment about energy efficiency in general, because that is a long-held area of great interest to him. There is certainly a need for any energy Bill to consider the role of demand reduction and energy efficiency but, as the scope of this Bill is relatively narrow as it stands, this amendment relates to increasing energy efficiency within the areas of extraction of oil and gas, as related to the OGA. Amendment 11 relates to carbon capture and storage policy again.
The last two amendments in this group, Amendments 20 and 21, relate to Clause 9. They seek to make sure that the interpretations in the Bill are sufficiently clear that when we talk about licensees and operators, and data sharing and meetings—all the various powers being given to the OGA—we know it is explicit that those powers include those activities that relate to CCS. As I say, this could be made a whole lot simpler if we were to change the primary objectives but it seems that there are many ways of skinning this particular cat, and many of them are presented here today. That is the purpose of tabling these amendments and I look forward to the Minister’s responses to these matters relating to Clauses 4 and 9.
My Lords, I support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, on the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, particularly regarding climate change, carbon-reduction targets and energy efficiency. I compliment the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on trying to get energy efficiency into the Bill because it is something that he, I and others on all energy Bills have tried to make the Government look seriously at always including. If we are concerned about reducing demand, which is another area we had to pursue energetically in the previous Energy Bill, we need to look at this if we are to meet a lot of the targets we have signed up to, not only in Europe but internationally. I support the thrust behind this and I admire the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for getting energy efficiency into the Bill.
My Lords, I also support Amendments 4 and 6 in respect of the matters to which the OGA must have regard, particularly climate change. The Climate Change Act set a statutory target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. In the shorter term, the Committee on Climate Change, under the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has recommended that the UK should have a virtually carbon-free electricity sector by 2030. We are clear that many of these targets will not be met under current scenarios, and this is an area in which it will be pretty strenuous to try to achieve them. Every tool in the toolbox will need to be used.
However, we are at a point where the Government seem to be removing some of the tools from the toolbox. We see in the Bill proposed changes to planning for onshore wind, changes to planning for low-carbon homes, the feed-in tariff support and the renewables obligation, and changes to proposals on tax incentives for low-emission vehicles. There is a concern, certainly in my mind, that if we remove too many tools it will become an even more strenuous and difficult task. That is why management of the oil and gas industry in the future is absolutely vital. It is important that the matters to which the OGA must have regard take account of UK and international obligations for greenhouse gas reduction, decarbonisation of energy and the carbon budgets set by the noble Lord, Lord Deben.
The Minister may say that the OGA already has a prime objective of maximising economic recovery, although I have not heard it put quite that way before. Indeed, one of the matters to which the OGA must have regard is minimising future public expenditure. It would be a bit of a stretch to say that that was a nod towards climate change. So, I ask the Minister to consider whether an explicit reference to having regard to climate change should be added to this list. If we do not make sure that all bodies involved in the energy business also have climate change at their heart, we will see huge effects on public expenditure from the impact of climate change in the future.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken on this group of amendments, which seek to amend Clause 4, in Part 1, and Clause 9, in Part 2, of this Bill. Those amendments are Amendments 3A to 11—excluding Amendments 7 and 9 which are grouped separately—and Amendments 20 and 21.
Amendment 3A, moved by my noble friend Lady Byford, seeks to insert provision into Clause 4 of the Bill which would require the Oil and Gas Authority to have regard to the need to minimise public expenditure relating to, or arising from, its existence. Clause 4 already places an obligation on the Oil and Gas Authority to have regard to,
“The need to minimise public expenditure relating to, or arising from, relevant activities”.
The concept of “relevant activity” is intended to capture activities such as petroleum extraction or gas or carbon dioxide storage in relation to which the Oil and Gas Authority has statutory functions and functions under licences. For example, when taking decisions under licences, it is intended that the Oil and Gas Authority should have to consider whether a licence holder will be able to meet liabilities under a licence if these are liabilities that might otherwise have to be met by the taxpayer.
The question of how the Oil and Gas Authority should spend its own resources is dealt with by other means. However, there are arrangements in place to ensure that the OGA’s spending is controlled. As accounting officer, the OGA’s chief executive is responsible and accountable to Parliament for the organisation of, and quality of management in, the authority, including its use of public money. The chief executive has responsibility for ensuring that the OGA operates in accordance with the guidance set out in the Cabinet Office’s Managing Public Money.
Furthermore, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is establishing a robust governance framework to oversee its relationship with the OGA. This will ensure that any issues which may have a financial impact on government are reported to the Secretary of State at the earliest opportunity. The framework requires the OGA to have the prior written consent of the Secretary of State before it takes any action which will, or is likely to, give rise to an additional funding requirement from the department or gives rise to obligations or liabilities which are not expected to be affordable in terms of expected levy income. The Secretary of State will be the sole shareholder of the OGA and her role in this regard includes assessing and approving the business plan developed by the authority, among other things, to ensure its long-term viability and sustainability and its ability to deliver value for money in light of the strategies of the department and wider government. I hope that this explanation is reassuring.
I turn now to Amendments 4 and 6, which each make reference to responsibilities under the Climate Change Act 2008. While the OGA will be bound by any environmental legislation that relates to the exercise of its functions, it is purposely not an environmental regulator. Perhaps I may refer noble Lords to Clause 4, which refers to those matters to which the OGA must have regard—
“include the following, so far as relevant”—
so, obviously, any pre-existing legislation would be binding in relation to the OGA, and that would include the Climate Change Act.
Environmental regulation responsibilities under the Climate Change Act 2008 will continue to sit within the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which has expertise and experience in this field. There are synergies between the two forms of regulation, and the existing strong relationships between the OGA and DECC will continue. However, it is important that these regulatory functions remain separate, ensuring that the correct focus is placed on each by the different regulators. Noble Lords will also be aware that the amendments raise issues of compliance with the offshore safety directive, which requires a separation of oil and gas licensing and environmental functions, so I am not sure that it is legally possible either. I cannot agree that it would be appropriate to provide the OGA with additional environmental functions, and I hope that noble Lords will not press the amendments.
Amendment 5 includes reference to the development of carbon storage. I thank noble Lords for proposing these amendments because, as I have indicated, between now and Report I should like to look at the whole issue of carbon capture and storage to ensure that there is dovetailing between the existing regime for control of carbon capture and storage and the way that the Oil and Gas Authority will move forward on the matters in the Bill. Clause 4, as I have said, sets out a non-exhaustive list of matters to which the OGA must have regard when exercising its functions. The functions of the OGA include functions relating to carbon capture and storage. A number of the matters refer to “relevant activities”, which is defined as activities in relation to which the OGA has functions. As things stand, the relevant activities therefore include CCS. These matters include the need to collaborate with industry and foster innovation, which should help the CCS sector to achieve its aims. In addition, reference is made under the heading “System of regulation” to encourage “investment in relevant activities”, which once again should include CCS. No other sectors in relation to which the OGA has functions are explicitly referenced by this clause. Making the OGA’s mandate and associated powers on CCS explicit when other sectors are not mentioned could have the effect of prioritising CCS over other areas, which the Government would be against. An example would be maximising the delivery of economic recovery. I hope that on that basis, and with the assurance that we will look at the whole issue of CCS between now and Report, the noble Baroness will be content not to press the amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness for proposing Amendment 8 on behalf of the noble Lord. This amendment makes similar provision to Amendment 5 and would require that the OGA has regard, when exercising its functions, to the need to encourage innovation and working practices,
“with particular emphasis on the development and promotion of carbon transport and storage”.
As I have said, the OGA has functions that relate to the CCS sector and is already required to have regard to the matters referred to in Clause 4 when exercising functions that relate to that sector, so far as relevant. This amendment, like Amendment 5, places too great an emphasis on carbon capture and storage and would have the effect of prioritising it over other areas. The Wood review specifically highlighted the potential of enhanced oil recovery—EOR—as something the Oil and Gas Authority would need to promote, as part of its remit to maximise the economic recovery of oil and gas from the continental shelf. As carbon dioxide can be used for enhanced oil recovery, this would potentially make a substantial contribution to lowering the cost of CCS projects, as well as benefiting North Sea revenues and jobs.
Clause 4 sets out that the OGA must have regard to the need to “work collaboratively” with industry and government in carrying out all activities in relation to which it has functions and to encourage innovation in technology and working practices. These legal requirements underpin the way we expect the authority to work with the department and the carbon capture and storage industry. If needed, there are other powers that DECC may use to force the OGA to do this, for example through the Secretary of State’s power of direction. I hope that noble Lords have found these comments reassuring and will not press their amendment.
I thank noble Lords for proposing Amendments 10 and 11. The Oil and Gas Authority has been established to deal with the real and severe challenges facing the United Kingdom continental shelf and the United Kingdom’s important oil and gas industry. Its primary role relates to oil and gas. The Oil and Gas Authority will have some functions in relation to carbon dioxide storage sites and permits, and will therefore be required to take account of the needs of CCS as it carries out its role. We acknowledge the benefits that carbon capture and storage can offer the continental shelf. No barriers which might inhibit active consideration of CCS are being put in place in the Energy Bill, and making the OGA’s mandate and associated powers on CCS more explicit might compromise delivery of the goal of maximising economic recovery, if additional duties were overly onerous or distracting.
Further to what I have said, we do not propose to give the OGA a new objective relating to CCS through the Energy Bill. This is because there is uncertainty at the moment over the desired role on carbon capture and storage, which is also acknowledged by the Carbon Capture & Storage Association, which wants regulation to be proportionate to the emerging nascent state of the CCS industry. There is also a strong likelihood that further legislative opportunities could be forthcoming. I hope that noble Lords have found these explanations reassuring.
Turning to Amendments 20 and 21, I once again thank noble Lords for proposing the amendments. As has been the case elsewhere, these amendments seek to broaden the definition of “licensee” throughout Part 2 of the Bill to include carbon capture and storage licensees. Part 2 creates a raft of further regulatory functions for the Oil and Gas Authority relating to offshore petroleum. As I have said previously, the Wood review carried out a thorough assessment of the oil and gas industry in the North Sea and of what was needed to support this mature and well-established industry. The result was the recommendation for a raft of new and significant regulatory powers, part of which is seen in Part 2 of the Bill.
These amendments would considerably widen the scope of these new regulatory powers beyond the realms envisaged by the Wood review and would extend the powers of the Oil and Gas Authority significantly, without consultation or full consideration of the impacts. These amendments subject carbon capture and storage licensees to the whole raft of new obligations and requirements imposed by Part 2 of the Bill. This includes the obligations in relation to information and samples, and the requirements imposed by the access to meetings provisions. It would also bring carbon capture and storage licensees within the scope of the Oil and Gas Authority’s sanctions regime.
The Government recognise the role of the United Kingdom’s carbon capture and storage industry. However, I suggest that the full impact of the widening of the regulatory scope that these amendments would create has not been thoroughly considered. This is particularly in the context of whether the regulatory burdens that would be imposed on the nascent CCS industry are necessary or justifiable. We do not want to impose these new obligations.
That said, as I have indicated previously in relation to other amendments, we are happy to sit down and look at how the whole CCS issue dovetails with the Oil and Gas Authority, because we have a shared interest across the House in ensuring that we maximise the important role of the CCS industry in helping us to decarbonise and reach the targets that we need to reach. I respectfully ask my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, although I thought that we had been making quite good progress in this debate in recognising the need to address the OGA’s powers in relation to CCS, I felt that the comments in response to this amendment seemed to be very narrow in their interpretation of what we are going to be considering before Report. I reiterate that our not moving the amendments in this group does not preclude the fact that we want a full and deep discussion about which of those OGA powers need to be amended to address CCS. As we will come on to discuss, that will involve access to meetings, information samples and a whole raft of things that will be needed to facilitate CCS. Although I will not be moving those amendments, I reiterate that we should not be sliding back and we should be looking at the whole issue holistically before Report.
I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. I am happy to do that, as I have indicated, but I do not want to give the impression—I do not want to commit us to this—that we are undermining the focus of the Oil and Gas Authority, which is to maximise the economic return from the North Sea.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendments 4 to 11 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.