The government proposes to issue 59 oil and gas licences in areas close to the UK’s most important wildlife sites with no conditions on the activities of operators.
The licences make up just under half the blocks that will be released following a public consultation currently underway.
Most are in Yorkshire, the East Midlands and Lancashire. Many are within a few kilometres of ecologically-sensitive areas, such as the Wash, Humber Estuary, Flamborough Head, North York Moors, Gibraltar Point and the River Derwent.
Another 73 licences (55% of the total), which either contain important wildlife sites or are within 1km, will be issued with conditions. This could prohibit exploration, development or production at or the near surface in part of the block.
The details are included in consultation documents published earlier this month by the Oil and Gas Authority, an agency of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The consultation runs until the end of September.
Together, the 132 licences make up a second tranche of blocks to be issued under the 14th Oil and Gas Licensing Round. They underwent an assessment because they were within 10km of wildlife sites protected by the Habitat Regulations.
These sites include:
- Special Protection Areas, designated to protect Europe’s rare and vulnerable birds, such as Liverpool Bay
- Special Areas of Conservation, designated to protect Europe’s rarest habitats and species, such the River Wye
- Ramsar Sites, designated to protect internationally-important wetlands, such as the Severn Estuary
The assessment under the Habitat Regulations looked only at the impact on the habitats and species of the sites.
The first tranche of licences, comprising 27 blocks, were not included in the consultation because oil and gas developments were not regarded as having any likely significant impact on the wildlife sites.
Granting a licence gives an operator exclusive right to search or drill for oil and gas. But it does not give permission to drill. If permission were granted under planning and environmental permit regulations other conditions would be likely.
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