Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 5: Directions: national security and public interest
12: Clause 5, page 3, line 35, at end insert—
“( ) are necessary in order to inform the OGA’s role in developing and promoting carbon storage,”
My Lords, thank you for returning to Committee. Amendment 12 in Clause 5 relates to the Secretary of State’s abilities to give directions to the Oil and Gas Authority. Again, I fear that we are now retreading familiar territory in our discussion of the Bill and some of the concerns that we have with it. The amendments in this group are probing and designed to give the Minister an opportunity to respond on how he considers that these powers might be used by the Secretary of State. We revisit the two issues that we talked about earlier today, which are that the Oil and Gas Authority should have explicit mention of carbon storage and transportation in its objectives and in the matters to which it has regard. For consistency’s sake, we therefore believe that the Secretary of State should also have those powers.
The purpose of these amendments, particularly Amendments 12 and 14, which are in my name, is to ask the Minister whether he could give us a little more information about the circumstances under which he envisages the Secretary of State needing to use these powers. Perhaps he could also give us an example of what kind of direction he imagines the Secretary of State might be giving the Oil and Gas Authority in relation to its functions under these powers. There is clearly not much in the public domain to help me get a handle on the thinking behind Clause 5, so it really would be an illuminating contribution from the Minister if he were able to give us some examples of the circumstances, particularly the exceptional circumstances referred to in the Bill, and the examples of direction.
We had a discussion prior to the break about the primary purposes of the OGA. I remain convinced that there is a clean and very succinct way of doing this, which is to refer to the Oil and Gas Authority’s primary objectives and to include within them explicit reference to activities that go beyond maximising economic recovery, as it is perhaps formally or informally understood. At the moment, it is interpreted as meaning that we will extract the maximum volume of hydrocarbons from our natural resources which fall within our territorial waters offshore, and indeed onshore. But it may be that that definition of MER, while it still of course has cross-party support, needs to be revisited and revised.
In the previous discussion, we saw reference to new matters to which the OGA should have regard being added to Clause 4. The Minister’s response in that debate was that there is no need to be explicit about these matters and that climate change is taken care of elsewhere, as indeed is the need to decarbonise and CCS. But if that logic were to apply, it is the case that one of the matters stated in Clause 4 is the need to have regard to a secure supply of energy, so if we are being true to ourselves and saying that we should have a narrow focus for the OGA and do not need to reiterate these things, there is no need for any reference to security of supply in that part of the Bill either. However, I do not think that is correct. Indeed it was helpful that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who is no longer in his place, made reference to the fact that to avoid doubt it is always better to be explicit about these things, for fear that people with slight imagination —he used that phrase but perhaps it should be “lacking in imagination”—might mean that there is a narrow interpretation of what the OGA is created to do and what is within its powers and remit.
That is a very lengthy way of saying that we look forward to hearing more from the Minister on Clause 5, which is clearly an important part of the Bill. However, as I read it, I am left wondering what these exceptional circumstances are and what these directions could look like. I look forward to hearing from the Minister in his response. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, but I also want to apologise to the Committee because, due to my attendance at my Select Committee, I was unable to be here for the previous debate, during which, as my noble friend said, the case was made for ensuring that the OGA—while it may well have principal objectives—has to operate in the context of wider energy policies. Issues of climate change, energy security and affordability are relevant to how the OGA fulfils its main functions. Indeed, if its main function is in terms of maximum economic recovery, what happens on those other dimensions of energy policy affects the actual economics in MER. Therefore, it is important that the OGA, as set out in the earlier clauses, has some regard to those broader objectives of energy policy. It is also important that the Secretary of State can intervene in those areas.
Amendment 13 would allow the Secretary of State to give directions where it would be necessary to meet the terms of the Climate Change Act and the budgets promulgated under that Act. Amendment 15 relates to the Committee’s discussion before the break about carbon capture and storage, so that directions could relate explicitly to the storage of gas and oil and the storage of carbon dioxide as part of a carbon capture and storage scheme. The amendments previously discussed relating to Clause 4 need to be complemented with the ability of the Secretary of State to intervene on those same subjects. That is what these amendments would do.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendments in this group and I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate for speaking to their amendments. Amendments 12 to 15 relate to Clause 5 of Part 1 of the Bill, which concerns directions the Secretary of State may give to the Oil and Gas Authority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said at the outset of our consideration in Committee, most of what we are looking at in the non-government amendments relates to carbon capture and storage. That is certainly a point well made. As I have indicated, we have undertaken that we will look at the issues relating to carbon capture and storage prior to Report.
As has been said, Clause 5 gives the Secretary of State power to direct the Oil and Gas Authority in the exercise of its functions if the Secretary of State considers the directions in the interest of national security or otherwise in the public interest. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, asked for examples of that and I will try to provide a couple. First, if a licence is applied for by a person who is suspected of corruption and whose possession of a licence the Secretary of State thinks would lead to reputational embarrassment or political damage to the United Kingdom, the intention is that the Secretary of State should be able to direct the Oil and Gas Authority not to issue a licence to such a person.
Secondly, another instance may be if there are other competing uses for a particular area of the seabed in respect of which the Oil and Gas Authority may grant licences. The intention then is that the Secretary of State should be able to give a direction to the Oil and Gas Authority as to over which areas it should or should not exercise its licensing powers so as not to prejudice those other uses.
Finally, another example may be that the Secretary of State should be able to direct the Oil and Gas Authority not to grant further consents for development in the face of public concern about the scientific evidence in relation to the methods used or a change in government policy. Clearly, that is not an exclusive list but those are some situations that may be covered by it.
The amendment makes it clear that the power in Clause 5 can extend to the Oil and Gas Authority’s functions in relation to the carbon capture and storage sector. We believe that it is unnecessary to do this because the Secretary of State’s power to give directions to the Oil and Gas Authority as to the exercise of its functions already applies to the carbon capture and storage sector in so far as it is in the ambit of the Bill.
I thank the Minister for allowing me to ask a question on this issue. At Second Reading I asked how much the Government had looked at the way Norway had organised its oil and gas industry. When Norway looked at these areas, I wondered how far it looked at carbon capture and storage and whether we have learnt anything from that in relation to what we are discussing at the moment.
I have no direct knowledge about lessons we have learnt from Norway, but I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness that we look closely at the Norwegian experience and the Canadian experience of carbon capture and storage. If I may, I will drop her a line on that and copy it to other Peers who have participated in today’s debate.
We believe this amendment is unnecessary as the Secretary of State’s power to give directions to the Oil and Gas Authority in the exercise of its functions already applies to the carbon capture and storage sector, as I have said. On that basis, we do not see the need for this amendment. Similarly, Amendment 15 makes it clear that the Secretary of State’s directions to the Oil and Gas Authority may include requirements on the development of storage facilities for gas and oil, or storage of carbon dioxide, as part of a carbon capture and storage scheme. Once again, the Secretary of State’s functions of licensing the storage and unloading of gas and the storage of carbon dioxide are being transferred to the Oil and Gas Authority by the Bill. As such, the Secretary of State’s power to give directions to the Oil and Gas Authority in the exercise of its functions already applies to these sectors. Were additional functions to be added to the Bill, they, too, would be covered by this provision and an amendment would not be necessary.
Turning to Amendments 13 and 14, the Oil and Gas Authority will be established formally so that it is an effective, robust and independent regulator. As part of this, it will deliver on the strategy to maximise the economic recovery of petroleum from the United Kingdom continental shelfs. The Oil and Gas Authority is purposely not an environmental regulator and environmental regulation will continue to sit within the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which has the expertise and experience in this field. There are synergies between the two forms of regulation and the existing strong relationship between the Oil and Gas Authority and the department will continue. The department will continue with its vital mission of seeking secure and diverse energy supplies, including renewables, nuclear and indigenous resources. The United Kingdom has adopted ambitious climate change targets, committing us to an 80% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. Emissions are already down by 29% on those levels.
As I indicated on a previous amendment that was brought forward on environmental concerns, these amendments also raise issues of compliance with the offshore safety directive, which is legally enforceable against us. This requires a separation of oil and gas licensing from environmental functions. So it may not be legally possible to do this either.
I do not believe that either my amendment or the other amendments intend to designate the OGA as a drafter or an enforcer of environmental legislation. They seek to ensure that anything the OGA does will not jeopardise—preferably, they would further—the broader objectives of the Government. This does not mean that it is a regulator; rather, that the Secretary of State would have the ability to intervene if some of the economic decisions taken by the OGA jeopardise its legal obligations under the domestic climate change Acts, or indeed jeopardise its international legal obligations under EU or any global climate change agreements. We are not arguing that the OGA should be an environmental regulator.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. We will have another look at the position, and indeed I am probably using the term “environmental regulator” in something of a shorthand sense. We have legal concerns on this, but I undertake to take a second look and possibly we will come back to it on Report.
In the light of my comments and the undertakings that I have made previously, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply and my noble friend Lord Whitty for his contribution to the debate. It is helpful to have specific examples of when the Secretary of State may need to take powers to direct the OGA. I have to say, though, that they do not really reassure me. I should like to read Clause 5 again in more detail because it seems that when it comes to the licensing of activities, competition and scientific evidence, it will give the Secretary of State quite a high degree of enabling power. I wonder whether the process as outlined in the Bill, which is just to notify Parliament with no debate, is sufficient in the circumstances. I could fast forward and imagine a time when there might be a part of, shall we say, a constituency which may not wish to have a particular oil and gas activity taking place. It might suit the Secretary of State to exclude that objection, and in these circumstances it seems that the Secretary of State could simply ask the OGA to do so without any debate about it.
The examples are helpful and it may be something we come back to on Report. However, before I withdraw the amendment I should like to reiterate my point that if we are going to take the line of defence that the OGA is narrow and does not need to have all these matters cluttering its mind, this seems to be a situation where it is being expected to have some sort of regard to security of supply, even though it is not a security of supply expert any more than it is a climate change expert. In terms of the trilemma, which we all know and love, of energy security, affordability and decarbonisation, to make explicit reference to security of supply in Clause 4 but not to affordability or climate change issues seems to suggest that one leg of the stool is more equal than the others. Again, we will probably want to come back to that, even if it is just to take out the reference to security of supply, which might be the most obvious solution.
At this stage I am happy to withdraw the amendment, but as I say, I will read Clause 5 with a greater degree of understanding and scrutiny now that we are back from the Recess. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendments 13 to 15 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clauses 6 and 7 agreed.
16: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Powers of the OGA to charge fees
(1) The OGA may charge fees—
(a) for making a determination under Schedule 1 to the Oil Taxation Act 1975; (b) on an application made to it under section 3, 15, 16 or 17 of the Petroleum Act 1998;(c) on an application of a prescribed description made to it by the holder of a licence granted under—(i) section 3 of that Act (searching for, boring and getting petroleum), or(ii) section 2 of the Petroleum (Production) Act 1934 (licences to search for and get petroleum);(d) on an application of a prescribed description made to it by the holder of an authorisation issued under section 15 of the Petroleum Act 1998;(e) for carrying out or attending any test, examination or inspection of a prescribed description;(f) on an application made to it under section 4 or 18 of the Energy Act 2008;(g) on an application of a prescribed description made to it by the holder of a licence granted under section 4 or 18 of that Act;(h) for the storage by it of samples or information in accordance with an information and samples plan (see section (Information and samples plans: supplementary) (2) of this Act).(2) The fees—
(a) are to be determined by or in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State, and(b) are to be payable by such persons as the regulations may provide.(3) The OGA must pay into the Consolidated Fund any amount which it receives in respect of fees charged by it under this section.
(4) Subsection (3) does not apply where the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, otherwise directs.
(5) Where in relation to any matter the OGA has a function mentioned in subsection (6), that function is treated for the purposes of this section as carried out pursuant to an application made to the OGA (whether or not there is any requirement to make such an application).
(6) The functions are—
(a) extending the term of a licence;(b) giving its consent or approval in relation to any matter;(c) objecting in relation to any matter.(7) The Secretary of State must consult the OGA before making regulations under this section.
(8) In this section “prescribed” means prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.”
My Lords, I will now speak to the government Amendments 16 to 19, which relate to the funding of the Oil and Gas Authority, including the provision of payments and financial assistance to the authority. The Oil and Gas Authority will be formally established so that it is an effective, robust and independent regulator of petroleum recovery. As part of this, it will deliver on a strategy to maximise the economic recovery of petroleum from the United Kingdom territorial sea and the United Kingdom continental shelf. The new body will be funded by industry. This is consistent with the user pays principle because industry will be benefiting from the work and expertise of the regulator.
The Oil and Gas Authority is providing a range of services to industry. These services include the issuing of licences as well as issuing relevant consents and permits, for example, to begin petroleum production. It is correct and in compliance with the Treasury’s Managing Public Money remit that the costs of these services should be recovered via direct fees rather than via the general levy. This will ensure that only those who require and benefit from the service will bear its costs.
Amendment 16 inserts a new clause into the Bill which will ensure that the costs of the relevant services provided by the Oil and Gas Authority may be recovered via a direct fee. Details of the fee mechanism and the method of calculating the full cost of the service will be set out in regulations. Amendments 17 and 18 insert new clauses allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations providing for a levy on industry to meet the costs of the authority; that is, the indirect costs of administration and so on. These new clauses are in similar terms to the levy provisions set out in Section 42 of and Schedule 7 to the Infrastructure Act 2015, but they reflect the fact that the functions will be carried out by the Oil and Gas Authority as a government company rather than as an executive agency, where in law the functions are with the Secretary of State. We thought it would be more helpful to those using the legislation to find the levy provisions in this Bill, and I hope that noble Lords are reassured by that. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, who is not now in his place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, both referred to the need to simplify access to some of the provisions in this area, so I hope that the fact that they will all be contained in this Bill rather than in the Infrastructure Act 2015 is helpful.
To allow the regulator to recruit and retain the best candidates, particularly those with specialist experience, we need to ensure that the regulator has financial flexibility and sufficient funding. Amendment 17 enables the Secretary of State to provide by regulation for a levy on the holders of specified licences. The levy will fund the costs of the regulator, but it must not exceed the costs incurred in carrying out the relevant functions. The amendment also allows the levy to be imposed to cover the costs of the Oil and Gas Authority exercising its functions, including those relating to the new powers we are conferring on it, such as dispute resolution, data acquisition and enforcement. Amendment 18 sets out illustrations of the way in which the levy power may be exercised. This is in similar terms to Schedule 7 to the Infrastructure Act 2015. Regulations will set out the detail, including the amount payable by different categories of licence holders. Just by way of explanation, it is intended that those licence holders who are actually exploiting the area will be paying more than those who have not yet taken up the opportunity.
Some consequential amendments to the schedule are necessary, such as Amendment 42, which amends the schedule to the Bill to remove the levy provisions from the Infrastructure Act 2015 as set out in Section 42 of and Schedule 7 to that Act. These amendments are covered separately with Amendment 1, which seeks to amend Clause 2, which introduces the schedule. In fact the amendment has already been dealt with, so I fear that my notes are out of date.
I turn now to Amendment 19, which provides a general power for the Secretary of State to make payments and provide financial assistance to the Oil and Gas Authority. The power is not restricted to the specific functions of the authority, and therefore payments may be made at the discretion of the Secretary of State to fund any of its functions. As well as covering statutory functions, it will cover those which are contracted out to the Oil and Gas Authority. The authority will be funded through a levy on the holders of certain energy industry licences and by fees which will be paid for the carrying out of particular services. The Secretary of State may also need to provide funds to the authority to cover any unforeseeable events. The amendment will allow the Secretary of State to provide financial assistance to the Oil and Gas Authority in the form of grants, loans, guarantees and indemnities. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, obviously the details will be set out in the regulations. Does my noble friend have any idea when those regulations may be available, or if they are available already? That would be helpful to us in our discussions as we go through the Bill. Secondly, I particularly welcome the flexibility that has been given to the Secretary of State to make payments which might unexpectedly be needed. Having that sort of provision makes good sense.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction of these government amendments and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for her contribution. However, I disagree with the noble Baroness slightly on her last comment. It may be necessary for the Government to make financial support available, but I worry that that creates yet another unbounded public spending commitment, and I know that the noble Baroness is very keen to try to constrain such commitments, as are the Government. I question the need for government Amendment 19, but at this stage I am not sufficiently briefed to know how extraordinary these clauses are. Maybe this is a very common thing, and we always create these abilities to give grants to quangos with no further detail, but perhaps we do not. I would be very grateful if the Minister could provide a bit more context, when he replies, about the need to provide for grants, loans and other financial provisions.
I ask because I am concerned about the growing costs of decommissioning, which we have talked about in previous debates. Similarly, I am slightly nervous about unbounded liabilities on the public purse at a time when so many people are being asked to tighten their belts. The profits of the offshore oil and gas industry are well known, and it would seem odd for it to be given special provision while everyone else is seeing their budgets cut. In particular, I am slightly worried that these unforeseeable events are not defined and that there would be, as I read it, very little in the way of opportunity for debate or questioning of the Secretary of State if such financial provisions were made. I would like further clarity on how much scrutiny there might be on that aspect. Those are the main points at the moment, and I look forward to a response from the Minister.
Perhaps I could express myself slightly more fully before the Minister responds. I looked at government Amendment 19 in terms of a national emergency—something out of the ordinary—and I was not quite sure, if it did not come in within the new clause, whether there was another way in which that sort of money can be accessed for the OGA. That was the presumed context within which I raised the issue. The noble Baroness is quite right that I am very keen to make sure that the Government live within their means. However, there are times—as we have seen in the international field when we have had major oil spills or something has gone really wrong—when emergency money has to be made available and I wondered whether that was within the context of the new clause in Amendment 19.
My Lords, I will try to address the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and my noble friend Lady Byford. The first was about when the regulations for the charging regime will be laid. They will need to be in force when functions transfer to the Oil and Gas Authority next summer, assuming the passage of the legislation. We have an indication of how much the levy will cost industry and the distinction to be made between those that are currently exploiting oil and gas fields and those that are not. The cost of the levy for the first six months for licence holders that are not exploiting is £2,759.30p—which seems pretty precise—and for those that are exploiting, it is £30,422.92p. I am sure we would reserve the right to vary that somewhat, but it gives an indication of how much the levy will cost. I think the regulations relating to the activities that are subject to the direct costs have not yet been laid, but I will restate the point that the aim is to recover the costs: it is not make a profit, but to ensure that the costs are covered. That should provide some reassurance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and my noble friend Lady Byford both raised points in relation to Amendment 19, on financial assistance. I think this is intended to cover two situations—if there are others, I will make sure that I deal with them in writing. First, it is intended to cover any shortfall in the levy and charge regime in the short run. I suppose this relates to cash-flow issues and is to ensure that things are kept running. That would presumably be a short-term measure and not involve a great amount of money in the scheme of the authority.
The second point relates to unforeseeable situations. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, asked for examples. In a sense, it is difficult to give examples because they are unforeseeable, but it could include some massive oil spillage where immediate funding is necessary or, God forbid, some terrorist incident where money is needed. That is the sort of situation. Those are two examples, but there will clearly be others, as this is about the unforeseeable. The unpredictable nature of the scenarios is clear there, but in addition there is the cash-flow element. I think it is fairly standard in these situations to have something of this nature. I hope that provides reassurance and that I have satisfied the noble Baroness.
Amendment 16 agreed.
Amendments 17 to 19
17: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Levy on licence holders
(1) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, provide for a levy to be imposed on, and be payable by, one or more of the following kinds of persons—
(a) persons who hold licences (other than excluded licences) granted under section 3 of the Petroleum Act 1998 (searching for, boring and getting petroleum);(b) persons who hold licences (other than excluded licences) granted under section 2 of the Petroleum (Production) Act 1934 (licences to search for and get petroleum);(c) persons who hold licences granted under section 4 of the Energy Act 2008 (unloading and storing gas);(d) persons who hold licences granted under section 18 of the Energy Act 2008 by the Secretary of State or the OGA (storage of carbon dioxide).(2) The Secretary of State must exercise the power conferred by subsection (1) so as to secure—
(a) that the total amount of licensing levy which is payable in respect of a charging period does not exceed the costs incurred by the OGA in exercising its functions in respect of that period, and(b) that no levy is payable in respect of costs incurred in the exercise of functions—(i) for which fees are charged under section (Powers of the OGA to charge fees), or(ii) which the OGA is authorised to exercise by virtue of an order under section 69 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994.(3) In determining for the purposes of subsection (2)(a) the total amount of licensing levy payable in respect of a charging period, an amount of levy payable in respect of that period may be ignored if (during that period or subsequently)—
(a) having been paid, it is repaid or credit for it is given against other licensing levy that is payable, or(b) having not been paid, the requirement to pay it is cancelled.(4) The amount or amounts of licensing levy payable by licence holders must be—
(a) set out in the regulations, or(b) calculated in accordance with a method set out in the regulations.(5) The licensing levy is payable to the OGA.
(6) The OGA must pay into the Consolidated Fund any amount which it receives in respect of the licensing levy.
(7) Subsection (6) does not apply where the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, otherwise directs.
(8) The Secretary of State must consult the OGA before making regulations under this section.
(9) Section (The licensing levy: regulations) does not limit the provision that may be made by regulations under this section.
(10) In this section and section (The licensing levy: regulations)—
“charging period” means a period in respect of which licensing levy is payable;“excluded licence”, in relation to a charging period, means a licence that, if granted at the beginning of the period, would fall to be granted by the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers (and for these purposes a licence within subsection (1)(b) is to be treated as granted under section 3 of the Petroleum Act 1998);“licensing levy” means the levy provided for in regulations under this section.”
18: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“The licensing levy: regulations
(1) Regulations may provide for the licensing levy payable in respect of a charging period to increase or decrease over that period.
(2) Regulations may provide for an amount of licensing levy payable by a licence holder to be calculated by reference to the size of an area to which a licence held by that person relates.
(3) Regulations may provide for different categories of licence holders to pay—
(a) different amounts of licensing levy, or(b) amounts of licensing levy calculated, set or determined in different ways.(4) Regulations may provide for a category of licence holder to be exempt from payment of the licensing levy.
(5) Regulations may provide for interest (at a rate specified in, or determined under, the regulations) to be charged in respect of unpaid amounts of licensing levy.
(6) Regulations may provide for unpaid amounts of licensing levy (together with any interest charged) to be recoverable as a civil debt.
(7) Regulations may confer a function (including a function involving the exercise of a discretion) on—
(a) the Secretary of State,(b) the OGA, or(c) any other person, apart from the Scottish Ministers or the Welsh Ministers.(8) Regulations (including regulations of the kinds mentioned in subsections (3) and (4)) may provide for a category of licence holder to consist of persons who hold a kind of licence that is specified in the regulations.
(9) The regulations may (in particular) specify any of the following kinds of licence—
(a) licences granted under a particular enactment;(b) licences of a particular description granted under a particular enactment;(c) licences, or licences of a particular description (including a description falling within paragraph (a) or (b)), granted—(i) before a particular time,(ii) after a particular time, or(iii) during a particular period.(10) In this section—
“licence” means a licence falling within section (Levy on licence holders)(1);“licence holder” means a person who holds a licence (whether the person was granted it or has, after its grant, acquired it by assignment or other means);“regulations” means regulations under section (Levy on licence holders).”
19: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—
“Payments and financial assistance
(1) The Secretary of State may make payments or provide financial assistance to the OGA.
(2) The payments or financial assistance may be made or provided subject to such conditions as may be determined by the Secretary of State.
(3) In the case of a grant such conditions may, in particular, include conditions requiring repayment in specified circumstances.
(4) In this section “financial assistance” means grants, loans, guarantees or indemnities, or any other kind of financial assistance.”
Amendments 17 to 19 agreed.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Interpretation of Part 2
Amendments 20 to 23 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
Clauses 10 to 18 agreed.
Clause 19: Petroleum-related information and samples
24: Clause 19, page 11, line 25, after “which” insert “were or”.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 24, I will speak to the others in the group. We move on to information and samples. These relatively small amendments are intended to ensure that the information and sample regime takes account of the role of carbon capture and storage: in other words, that it is reflected within this part of the Bill in the way that it should be reflected—the Minister has indicated some sympathy towards this—in the earlier clauses relating to the activities of the OGA.
Amendments 24 and 25 are very small and are intended to ensure that the definition of “petroleum-related information” is kept as broad as possible, so that it is not limited to the fulfilment of the principal objective—it is narrowly defined at present—and not time limited to activities which continue to be relevant to that objective. In other words, it could be used, either in parallel with extraction processes or after they have taken place, to provide samples and information to CO2 licence holders and storage operators. The use of “and” between the two subsections creates an ambiguity here, and if the Government’s intention is to ensure that the information could be provided to and required of CO2 storage operators, they need to make these amendments.
Similarly, on Amendment 25, which relates to the transfer of such information, there are many within the potential CCS market who regard the inability to access samples as one of the barriers to using former gas and oil facilities for carbon storage. In order to ascertain whether the facility is appropriate and can technically be operated as a storage area, information that is held by the OGA as a result of it having been provided by the extraction operators ought to be made available to the CCS operators. Amendment 25 is designed to ensure that that can happen and that the Government have the powers to transfer such data. The Government have already indicated that they hope to be able to transfer such information, and this would give a proper legal base to that and make it enforceable. In addition, Amendment 28 clarifies that the OGA could require information and samples for the purpose of carrying out any of its relevant functions, not just its principal function. Again, that would ensure that storage licensing was included in that provision.
I hope the Government can look at these amendments and, taking account of the points made earlier in Committee about CCS, consider whether these relatively minor amendments to the Bill would help to encourage and give some degree of confidence to potential operators of CCS making use of our North Sea facilities. I beg to move.
My Lords, we are all getting very excited about these amendments so we are anxious to speak. I want to add a couple of sentences. There is a history in the oil and gas sector of not sharing information, for whatever reason: sometimes it is competitiveness but sometimes, although I hate to say it, it is sheer awkwardness. Although CCS technology has been around for a long time and has been proven, there is nervousness about transmission, so it would make a great deal of sense if the OGA had the authority to require the sharing of this information, whether for safety reasons or any other reason. Those of us who have had to deal with the oil and gas industry know that it is very shy about passing on the kind of information that my noble friend Lord Whitty has spoken so eloquently about.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, Amendments 26A and 30A. As we discussed earlier, the OGA may well choose to encourage small innovative companies to come into the business. The termination of rights under a licence, for whatever reason, may result in the failure of a company. The wording in the Bill seems to imply that the duty to retain information and samples will continue, but I am not sure how long that continues for. If a company ceases to continue in business for whatever reason, what happens to those samples? Is the implication of the clause that the OGA will be bound not to encourage innovation—which would be regrettable—other than in companies that are part of or allied to others and which would pick up the pieces in the event of bankruptcy? In other words, does this subsection of the Bill in practice restrict the OGA’s duty to have regard to,
“The need to encourage innovation”?
I turn to Amendment 30A, picking up on the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, about data sharing. In many businesses, not just the oil business, people are very wary about data sharing, and in many cases I quite understand why. My amendment goes to the other end of the question: what happens to some of these data? Do they get passed on, and what restrictions are there on data being shared and pooled for the benefit of everyone? Over the years, Governments and businesses have been required to release data, which have then been passed on to third companies in a way I am sure the Bill does not intend. My second amendment refers to that. In his letter to me, the Minister stated that,
“information may be disclosed if any one of the factors listed under 27(5) applies”.
However, I still do not understand in what circumstances the OGA would disclose protected material simply because the person who had provided it had consented, although there was no need for disclosure under Clause 27(b), (c) or (d). Is there an implication that permission to disclose will be a standard part of any relationship with the OGA? Really, my amendment comes between the previous contribution relating to the concern that we should share data, which is quite right, and the question of how those data are used, not abused, in future.
These are two very simple amendments, and I am delighted to have spoken to them.
My Lords, I shall speak to the amendments in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Oxburgh. Here again we have an example of a slight lack of communication at the end of the Recess, but I am certain that by the end of Report we will have all this ironed out.
We are addressing similar points to those addressed by the previous amendments, as described very eloquently by my noble friend Lord Whitty. This gets to the nub of our concern about the OGA’s remit not being sufficiently broad to ensure that it is able to carry out its functions in a rapidly changing world, in which conversations about carbon capture and storage may be happening more often than conversations about the exploration of new wells or life extensions of existing ones. It is about ensuring that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the very sensible powers that have been taken to enable activities in the North Sea to be well organised from applying to those activities when they relate to carbon capture and storage.
We—and, I am sure, others—have received excellent representations from academics and the CCSA on the issue of information sharing and samples, which requires careful attention. I was very interested to find out about the issue of samples. Over the past 50 years of exploration and production in the North Sea, and indeed offshore all around the UK, the oil and gas sector has acquired rock core data. In the drilling and exploration of wells, a core of rock is extracted and then maintained, curated, labelled and well looked after. That core sample contains all sorts of information that might be relevant for people wishing to repurpose sites in the North Sea or to continue their use in other forms. I believe that at the moment there is an obligation to maintain these physical samples. However, if a company abandons a hydrocarbon field, that requirement is no longer in place, and I am told that those physical samples can therefore literally be landfilled. The samples have cost millions, if not billions, to acquire, and should be valued as such.
We would therefore like to see something in the Bill that acknowledges that, when it comes to information and samples, we are discussing a very great resource that has practical implications for the development of CCS when it comes to understanding rock strata, and this information should be available. The Minister might say that the British Geological Survey retains an archive of these rock cores, but that is only an archive: you are not able to take samples from it and cannot use it to do the kind of sampling or study and research that you might want to, so that would not be sufficient. There is a need for something that will keep these cores that are owned by the oil and gas companies in a good state and available for people who may find them useful in future.
In addition, beyond the actual samples lots of information is held by the oil and gas companies resulting from their operation—for example, understanding of the deep subsurface geology, the injection histories of the hydrocarbon field and the measurement of subsurface pressure in the reservoir and overlying rocks. These are all pieces of information that will, of course, be useful if we are trying to assess our storage capabilities, particularly the borehole data. We need to know how the borehole was drilled and how it was engineered, so we can understand whether it is possible to reuse boreholes and to secure against leakage. The list goes on, so there is a significant issue here about information and samples.
We remain concerned that the Bill is not sufficiently clear on the reuse and availability of the information and samples for parties that may come along in the near future—indeed, at any time in the future—and wish to use the North Sea for CCS. We can continue to have our discussions about the general principles and the objectives of the OGA but these amendments speak to specific issues that might be a hurdle. I hope to hear some positive words from the Minister, since I am sure that this we will all continue to receive representation regarding this issue. We would welcome further discussion with the Government.
My Lords, these amendments seek to amend Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Bill, relating to information and samples. This is another smorgasbord of amendments and I shall attempt to do justice to the contributions that have been made.
Amendment 24 seeks to broaden the definition of “petroleum-related information” that is used throughout Chapter 3 of Part 2. The broadening of this term is to include information acquired by relevant persons in the course of carrying out activities that were once, but are no longer, relevant to fulfilment of the principal objective. I confess that we are not certain what the gap is that the amendment seeks to fill, but I am very happy to engage with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to see specifically whether there is a gap and whether we need to fill it. We feel that, as drafted, the clause provides the Oil and Gas Authority with the power to acquire all the information that it is likely to require to fulfil its role.
Amendment 25 seeks to ensure that the two definitions of petroleum-related information are not interdependent. It is our view, having looked at this and having had lawyers look at it, the provisions, as drafted, are not interdependent. Any information that an offshore licensee acquires or creates that is relevant to the principal objective will fall within paragraph (a) and anything a licensee acquires in the course of carrying out activities under their licence which is not relevant to the principal objective would fall within the scope of paragraph (b). This is clarified in the final part of that paragraph, which specifies that in order to fall within paragraph (b) the information cannot also fall within paragraph (a). So I do not think that they can be interdependent, but I am happy to have another look to make sure that we are right. We feel that the clause allows the Oil and Gas Authority to access any information that licensees acquire under their licences, including information which is not relevant to the fulfilment of the principal objective.
I thank those noble Lords who spoke on Amendment 26, which seeks to insert a new subsection into Clause 19 for the purpose of confirming that the provisions within Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Bill, relating to information and samples, apply for the purpose of data sharing with carbon capture and storage operators. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, made some telling points on samples in general. We will look at the points she made about access to the archive and so on—however, we believe that nothing within Chapter 3 prevents the Oil and Gas Authority disclosing information and samples to carbon capture and storage operators, outside the general restrictions provided for in Clause 27. These general restrictions apply to the disclosure of all protected information acquired by the Oil and Gas Authority under its powers in Chapter 3, to any person. Similarly, carbon capture and storage operators are given no special treatment by the clauses, in so far as there is no provision allowing disclosure to them and not to others. Once restricted information is publishable it may be disclosed to any person, including any carbon capture and storage operator.
Amendment 26A relates to Clause 21, which provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations imposing obligations on offshore licensees to retain information and samples where there has been a termination of rights under the licensee’s licence. This information can be of significant importance to the Oil and Gas Authority and the rest of the UK continental shelf, and it is therefore important that the Oil and Gas Authority can continue to access this information and samples after a licence is terminated. Clause 21 states that regulations may provide for the requirements to retain information to continue following a termination of the licensee’s rights under the licence, but the amendment would nullify these obligations if the licensee whose licence rights had been terminated ceases to be in business.
The most frequent ground for termination of a licensee’s rights under a licence is where a licensee transfers interests in a licence to another party. In that case, the rights granted under the licence continue for the party to whom they have been transferred but are automatically terminated in respect to the transferring party. Where a licence is revoked, the obligations and liabilities in respect of that licence continue, even in cases where a licensee becomes insolvent. This is done to protect the regulator from acquiring onerous and costly liabilities which may result from that licence.
This amendment is particularly relevant to information and samples plans, as provided for by Clause 23. These plans are intended to safeguard petroleum-related information and samples during licence events, such as the revocation of a licence after a company becomes insolvent. In such a case it would be imperative for the rights and obligations requiring the retention of information and samples to continue past the termination of rights and until the information and samples plan can be put in place. The amendment would prevent this and allow those companies which cease to be in business legitimately to dispose of the petroleum-related information and samples which they hold. This would be a significant and severe loss for the Oil and Gas Authority and the UK continental shelf as a whole. That is something to which we cannot agree and I am sure that it is not the intention of the amendment. I hope, in those circumstances, that that point will be taken on board.
Amendment 27 seeks to specify that an information and samples plan, as provided for by Clause 23, may provide for the transfer of petroleum-related information or samples to a new licensee or a new carbon dioxide storage licence holder. The policy intent of the information and samples provisions is to ensure that petroleum-related information is accounted for and safeguarded against loss during licence events, such as the surrender and expiry of licence rights. That said, nothing within the existing provisions would prevent a plan providing for the transfer of information to any other person, including a carbon dioxide storage licence holder, and for that person to take on the obligations that are imposed by that plan. The amendment makes presentational but non-material changes to the Bill and I therefore undertake to take it away for further consideration.
Amendment 28 seeks to insert a new subsection into Clause 25 for the purpose of confirming that information and samples plans shall also provide for the sharing of petroleum-related information with carbon capture and storage operators. As I have explained, the information and samples provisions are intended to ensure that petroleum-related information is accounted for and safeguarded against loss during licence events. They are not specifically intended to facilitate the sharing of information between parties. However, I confirm that nothing within the existing information and samples provisions prevents petroleum-related information being shared with carbon capture and storage operators.
Amendments 29 and 30 seek to broaden the scope of the Oil and Gas Authority’s power to acquire information and samples as set out at Clause 26 by either removing the requirement for the Oil and Gas Authority’s function for which the information is requested to be relevant to the fulfilment of the principal objective, or to add an alternative requirement that the function is relevant to the promotion and development of carbon capture transport and storage. Clause 26 is in response to recommendations made in the Wood review, which noble Lords will be aware focused virtually solely on oil and gas exploration and production offshore. The clauses are therefore drafted very specifically to cater for offshore oil and gas, and the focus on the principal objective and offshore licences reflects that. This is an important focus, and any expansion of these powers beyond it may have significant repercussions for other areas of the Oil and Gas Authority’s functions. Much of the information acquired under this power, although relevant to maximising economic recovery in the United Kingdom, will also be of interest and importance to other industries, such as carbon capture and storage. Nothing within the Bill restricts access to that information by any person once it has been published under the disclosure provisions.
The noble Baroness’s Amendment 30A requires that the cases in which protected information may be disclosed by the Oil and Gas Authority, which are detailed in Clause 27(5), must apply in defined circumstances. Clause 27(5) seeks to set out a clear set of circumstances in which protected material may be disclosed under Chapter 3 of Part 2 of the Bill. I feel that we do this, but I will be happy to write to my noble friend Lady Byford to seek further to clarify this issue.
Furthermore, Clause 27(8) provides that protected material may be published or made available to the public at such times as may be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State. I therefore consider that there is sufficient detail within the clause to ensure that the circumstances under which protected material may be disclosed are understood.
On the point made by the noble Baroness on stifling innovation, we do not believe that that will happen. The obligations continue indefinitely or until an information and samples plan is put in place. If a company ceases in business, the plan can provide for the ongoing obligations to end, and the information is then handed to the Oil and Gas Authority.
I will look closely at the proceedings in Hansard to ensure that we have looked in detail at those points. As I say, with regard to the one point where the matter seemed to be largely presentational, I will have a look at that to consider whether an amendment is advisable. However, with that, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, comes back on his amendment, perhaps I may return to Amendment 26A. It certainly was not my intention to make things very difficult. My question was on the samples. If a company goes out of business and is not taken over or linked to another, I understand that parts of the samples that are taken are held by the British Geological Survey. However, in response to my earlier inquiry, I was told that the remainder of the sample is required to be retained by the company. I tabled this amendment because of the problem of how that will happen if the company no longer exists. The amendment was not meant to be disruptive but concerned a practical issue: if the company no longer exists, how can it continue to hold a sample? How would that work? Again, I would be very happy for the Minister to take that away to consider it. I did not know the answer to what seemed a very ordinary question.
I know that my noble friend was not seeking to be difficult or disruptive in any way; I know her too well to think that. I am happy to write further on the issue, but if the company goes into liquidation, basically, proceedings under the Insolvency Act would apply, and the liquidator—I believe this is the case, although this is on the hoof—would then have to act in response to any request from the Oil and Gas Authority to make the samples or the information available. However, I will write to my noble friend on that issue and will ensure that other noble Lords are copied in as well.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for such a detailed response to my amendments and the others in this group. Obviously, I will have a very close look at what he said in Hansard and will consult those who were concerned about these issues. Certainly there is concern that the overlap between “principal objective” and “petroleum-related” could exclude things that were not currently related to the extraction—or exploration of the extraction—of petroleum, and therefore could exclude carbon capture and storage. However, the Minister has given various reassurances on that, some of which I will require some legal advice on. I am quite happy to arrange for a meeting with him or his officials. However, I repeat that I am very grateful that he has taken these amendments seriously and I hope that we can reach some accommodation on this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
Amendment 25 not moved.
Amendment 26 not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Clause 20 agreed.
Clause 21: Retention: supplementary
Amendment 26A not moved.
Clause 21 agreed.
Clauses 22 to 24 agreed.
Clause 25: Information and samples plans: supplementary
Amendment 27 not moved.
Amendment 28 not moved.
Clause 25 agreed.
Clause 26: Power of the OGA to require information and samples
Amendment 29 not moved.
Amendment 30 not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Clause 27: Disclosure of information and provision of samples
Amendment 30A not moved.
Clause 27 agreed.
Clause 28: Timing of disclosure etc: supplementary
31: Clause 28, page 16, line 19, at end insert—
“(4) In determining the time to be specified in respect of protected material in regulations under section 27(8), the Secretary of State must have regard to the following factors—
(a) whether the specified time will allow owners of protected material a reasonable period of time to satisfy the main purpose for which they acquired or created the material;(b) any potential benefits to the petroleum industry of protected material being published or made available at the specified time;(c) any potential risk that the specified time may discourage persons from acquiring or creating petroleum-related information or petroleum-related samples; (d) any other factors the Secretary of State considers relevant.(5) In balancing the factors mentioned in subsection (4)(a) to (d), the Secretary of State must take into account the principal objective.
(6) For the purposes of subsection (4)(a), the owner of protected material is the person by whom, or on whose behalf, the protected material was provided to the OGA under this Chapter.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 31, I shall also speak to government Amendments 32 and 36. I am extremely grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its consideration of the Bill and the detailed work it always does. These amendments are made to implement some of the recommendations set out in the sixth report of the committee.
Amendment 31 amends Clause 28 to include factors the Secretary of State must have regard to before making regulations under Clause 27(8). Such regulations would determine the periods of confidentiality that are to apply to protected material before it can be published or made public. When balancing these factors the Secretary of State must take into account the principal objective of maximising the economic recovery of United Kingdom petroleum. The regulations made under Clause 27(8) are to be subject to the affirmative procedure as a result of Amendment 36, which amends Clause 61 to this effect.
Amendment 32 amends Clause 40, subsection (2) of which requires the Oil and Gas Authority to issue guidance on the matters to which it will have regard when determining the amount of a financial penalty. In line with the committee’s recommendation, this amendment requires that the Oil and Gas Authority lays any guidance or revised guidance produced under Clause 40 before each House of Parliament. I am most grateful to the committee for its recommendations, but I should say that the Government have not additionally sought to apply any parliamentary procedure to the guidance, as that is not established practice; for example, we followed that practice in relation to the supermarkets adjudicator and the data commissioner.
Before I move these amendments, I should say that I have heard that the impact assessment with regard to the Oil and Gas Authority has in fact been published, which is good news. It should be available online now, but we will undertake to get it round to Peers who participated in this debate no later than tomorrow. I apologise for the lateness of that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing these government amendments. Indeed, we—Labour—had also tabled an amendment following the Delegated Powers Committee’s recommendation; of course, that will now be withdrawn in the light of the Government’s decision to table amendments. We are obviously pleased that the Government have listened to that committee and taken on board its recommendations in regard to the use of the affirmative resolution procedure. We think that is an important addition to the Bill and has improved it—we are grateful.
Before we conclude today’s debate, I am encouraged to hear that we will, finally, see an impact assessment. When we sit in Committee and we dedicate our time to scrutinising these important matters, having an impact assessment in front of us at the time is much more useful than having it after the Committee’s deliberations have concluded. We have a number of groups that we will talk to on Wednesday, so at least we will have some information for that. In the light of the impact assessment’s late arrival, I would not be surprised if some of the contributions on Wednesday revisit ground that we visited today without the benefit of the impact assessment. That aside, we look forward to seeing it and I am grateful to the Minister for confirming its arrival. These amendments, as I have said, are implementing recommendations that we support and we have no further comment.
I thank the noble Baroness very much for those comments—I fully understand and sympathise with her position on the impact assessment. I agree that it would have been much more desirable to have the impact assessment in considering the amendments today. I thank her for her support on the amendments in relation to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations.
Amendment 31 agreed.
Clause 28, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 29 to 36 agreed.