Memorandum submitted by the Marine Conservation
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS)
is the UK charity dedicated to the protection of our seas, shores
and wildlife. MCS campaigns for clean seas and beaches, sustainable
fisheries, protection of marine life and their habitats, and the
sustainable and sensitive use of our marine resources now and
for future generations. Through advocacy, community involvement
and collaboration, MCS raises awareness of the many threats that
face our seas and promotes individual, industry and government
action to protect the marine environment.
MCS has sat on the Steering Group of the Strategic
Environmental Assessment of oil & gas licensing rounds for
many years. We welcome the Committee's inquiry into deepwater
MCS and other UK NGOs have long had concerns about
proposed and licensed drilling in the "Atlantic Frontier",
which we have raised with DECC and its predecessors. The "Atlantic
Frontier" includes areas to the west of the Shetland Islands,
west of the Hebrides and the "white zone" to the south-east
of the Faroes.
Following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, MCS
is calling for a moratorium on deepwater drilling, usually defined
as 200m in relation to oil & gas. The disaster in the Gulf
of Mexico made it apparent that there are technological problems
in preventing an ecological catastrophe in the event of a blowout
in deepwater, not least since divers cannot reach a wellhead below
200m and unmanned ROVs proved unsuccessful in capping the wellhead
for months in the Gulf of Mexico. Deepwater Horizon confirms that
the deeper the water the higher the risk. The wildlife to the
west of Shetland is too important to take such risks, with cetacean
regularly occurring in the area ranging from white-beaked dolphin,
Atlantic whitesided dolphin, Risso's dolphin to long-finned pilot
whale, killer whale, sperm whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, humpback
whale and Sei whale. As such, until technology improves sufficiently
to reduce the risk of blowouts, and just as importantly allow
for the capping of the wellhead swiftly in deepwater should a
blowout occur, MCS calls on the UK Government to introduce
a moratorium on deepwater drilling.
What are the implications of the Gulf of Mexico
oil spill for deepwater drilling in the UK?
The Gulf of Mexico blowout called into question whether
governments were regulating the oil industry effectively, whether
the technology was in place to enable safe, pollution free deepwater
drilling and highlighted the devastation brought on the environment,
economy and society of such an oil disaster. Like others, MCS
were surprised to find that even the technological advances, knowledge
and money of the 21st century were unable to prevent one of, or
possibly the worst oil pollution disaster the world has ever seen.
US President Barak Obama said the disaster "will have the
same effect on the US psyche as 9/11."
MCS believes that the UK Government must introduce
a moratorium on all deepwater drilling, until technology improves
sufficiently to prevent such blow-outs and cap them, should they
occur. At a minimum we would suggest this is for five years, to
allow technology to further advance, at which point we would recommend
another thorough independent investigation is undertaken to consider
technological and regulatory advances and ensure that these are
utilised in the UK. The Government must review how much industry
is relied on for self-regulation and whether further regulation
needs to fall to government to prevent such disasters happening
in future. The industry must also be made to be more transparent
on environmental matters, with oil companies obliged to be completely
open when things go wrong. The Government must also review its
contingency plans to deal with accidents on this scale.
(from MCS magazine Marine Conservation)
The impact on the environment of the Gulf of Mexico
and society and economy of the southern states of America has
The damage done to the natural environment in the
vast area affected by the blowout has been enormous. Scientific
assessments are at an early stage, but it is likely that large
populations of fish and invertebrates have been adversely affected
by the toxic, clogging oil, along with large numbers of seabirds,
turtles and dolphins. The Gulf of Mexico is one of two major spawning
locations for the endangered Atlantic Bluefin Tuna - much smaller
spills of oil in the Gulf have been shown to have reduced the
viability and survival of tuna eggs and their larvae.
The long term effect on wildlife both in and out
of the sea is unknown, but it is likely to have far reaching impacts
on fish, wildlife and the food chain within the Gulf, and in the
wider Atlantic and Caribbean, as the oil remains in the water
column and sea bed.
By the end of June, the US Fish and Wildlife Collection
Report stated the following had been found dead, but these are
likely to only be the tip of the iceberg: 997 dead birds were
found, 749 oiled but alive and 93 have been cleaned and released.
400 dead turtles have been washed up, 84 oiled but alive turtles
have been found and three have been cleaned and released. 47 dead
mammals were also recorded.
Society & Economy
Compensation claims from victims are being thrashed
out from a £13.5 billion fund set up by BP for the next
To what extent is the existing UK safety and environmental
regulatory regime fit for purpose?
MCS believes that the safety and environmental regulation
could be considerably improved as detailed below. However, even
with such improvements, MCS is concerned that the technology is
still not advanced enough to prevent blowouts or cap the wellhead
should they occur. We need to be certain that deepwater drilling
is safe, and that drilling will not lead to environmental catastrophe.
Only time, further review and improvement to regulation and technological
advancement will ensure that.
DECC, and its predecessors, have been reasonably
successful in the past decade or so in working with industry to
implement international commitments that require reductions in
the operational impact of oil & gas exploration and
production, for example reinjection of produced water and replacing
oil based drilling muds with alternatives. DECC has also been
proactive in taking steps to meet EU Directives including the
Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, Habitats and Species
Directive and EIA Directive. However, we have found that while
DECC is prepared to follow the processes necessary to be seen
to implement the letter of the law with regard to EU Directives,
in MCS view licensing still proceeds sometimes in contravention
of the Directives. While MCS support Government bodies such as
DECC in their essential role in regulating industry, we find that
they are sometimes drawn between implementing environmental regulation
and implementing Government's policy, as detailed in the draft
UK Marine Policy Statement, "to maximise economic development
of the UK's oil and gas resources, reflecting their importance
to the UK's economic prosperity and security of energy supply".
Is this a case of the fox guarding the hen house? MCS think it
probably is and as such we recommend that an independent Science
Advisory Panel is established by Defra and devolved administrations,
similar to the one developed to advise on Marine Conservation
Zone selection. The panel of experts could analyse the work of
DECC in their environmental regulation and advise Parliament of
The HSE expects companies to manage their own risks
under a "goal-setting" approach. While this may give
companies the flexibility to choose the best methods and equipment
they believe are available, rather than relying on prescription
from the HSE, it could also allow companies too much flexibility,
enabling less expensive safety options to be chosen over more
expensive, but possibly less safe technology. One of the reasons
for the Deepwater blowout was thought to be lack of investment
in an expensive acoustic switch on the BOP - an acoustic system
is typically a back-up to the primary control that are either
hydraulic or electronic. Ironically, given the flaws we now see
in America's oil drilling, Oil & Gas UK's parliamentary brief
states that they often base their standards on those from the
American Petroleum Institute. It is time that the HSE provided
more guidance and possibly regulation with regard to the best
available technology and methods to use.
While the oil industry, HSE and DECC conducted a
review of the existing safety and environmental regulatory regime
through the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG),
this happened behind closed doors with no request for input from
Defra, MMO, JNCC, NE or environmental organisations. How thorough
and honest this investigation was without independent overview
is therefore questionable.
MCS hence welcomes an inquiry by the Select Committee,
and suggests that should sufficient information not be forthcoming
from those called to give evidence that an independent body is
asked to review the existing UK safety and environmental regulatory
regime and ensure they are fit for purpose.
Lessons must be learnt from a major oil disaster
such as occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.
What are the hazards and risks of deepwater drilling
to the west of Shetland?
The hazards and risks of deepwater drilling to the
west of Shetland are in MCS' view, two-fold. Firstly the increased
risk of an oil pollution disaster, and secondly, the unique
wildlife assemblages and habitats that the UK has an international
legal responsibility to conserve, together with the impacts of
oil spills on local economies.
The first point regarding the increased risk of an
oil pollution disaster in deepwater is covered above.
The west of Shetland is of unique importance to a
diverse range of cetacean and fish, as detailed by the (then)
DTI in their Strategic Environmental Assessment for the region
- see box below. There are also other wonderful habitat and wildlife
assemblages that can be found on the DECC web site:
WILDLIFE & FISHERIES
Source: DTI Strategic
Environmental Assessment (SEA) 4 for the West of Shetland
Fisheries are very important in the SEA4 area, the
mixed demersal fishery for cod, haddock and whiting, the pelagic
fisheries for herring and mackerel, and the industrial fishery
for sandeel, being the most important. Fish communities in the
SEA4 area associated with the coast, shelf and shelf edge have
affinities with communities elsewhere in the UK EEZ, such as to
the west of the Hebrides, but the deep-water fish communities
found in the very cold water below about 500m water depth in the
Faroe Shetland Channel are unique to the UK EEZ.
The SEA area is of undoubted importance internationally
for cetaceans with the following species regularly occurring in
the area: harbour porpoise, white-beaked dolphin, Atlantic whitesided
dolphin, Risso's dolphin, long-finned pilot whale, killer whale,
minke whale, fin whale and sperm whale. In addition to these,
other, rarer species such as Sowerby's beaked whale, humpback
whale, Sei whale and common dolphin are also known to regularly
occur in the area. (SEA 4 p.99). A further eleven cetacean species
and four pinniped species are occasional visitors, while grey
seal, harbor seal, hooded seal are also occur regularly.
The impact on marine mammals of oil & chemical
dispersants depends on the amount of internal or external exposure
and the method of exposure, i.e. inhaled, ingested, absorbed,
or external. Impacts can include ulcers, respiratory problems,
immune suppression, reproductive failure, organ damage or death.
With a large spill, such as in the Gulf of Mexico, marine mammals
will be exposed for a long period of time. In addition, they will
consume prey containing oil based chemicals that will lead to
bioaccumulation of contaminants. For further information see Appendix
I - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): Effects
of Oil on Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles
All dolphins, porpoises and whales are listed on
Annex IV of the Habitats Regulations.
Regulation 10 of The Offshore Petroleum Activities
(Conservation of Habitats) Regulations makes it an offence to
deliberately disturb these animals or cause deterioration or destruction
of breeding sites or resting places of any such creature. Under
the Habitats Regulations, the competent authority, DECC, must
not grant a licence unless they are satisfied that the action
authorised will not be detrimental to the maintenance of the populations
of the species concerned at a favourable conservation status in
their natural range.
In addition to learning lessons from the Gulf of
Mexico, we must learn from risks caused to wildlife and local
economies in UK waters. The MV Braer ran aground off the coast
of Shetland on the 5 January 1993, spilling 85,000 tonnes of oil
and killing some 5,000 seabirds, with 32,000 birds in total estimated
to have perished. The Braer grounding could have been a much greater
disaster for the Shetland. Breeding birds were away from Shetland,
and the stormy weather dispersed the oil, with most being swept
out to sea and less than 1% washed ashore. Inshore fisheries and
salmon farms were badly affected, with oil concentrations up to
20,000 times higher than normal, and the harvests were lost. Fishing
in the area was suspended for several weeks. Fish, shellfish,
marine mammals and various bird species were all affected by the
spill. Oil settled into the sediment in the Fair Isle Channel,
which meant that the langoustine fishery remained closed for over
a decade. Much of the light crude oil the Braer was carrying dispersed
quickly, but it is more toxic than the heavier crude oils which
were carried by the Prestige and the Erika.
On the evening of 15 February 1996 the oil tanker
Sea Empress, carrying crude oil to Milford Haven in South West
Wales, ran aground at St Ann's Head in the entrance to the Milford
Haven waterway. The spill affected the Pembrokeshire Coast National
Park, and the main spill area affected 35 Sites of Special Scientific
Interest, two national nature reserves (at Stackpole and Skomer),
and one of the UK's three marine nature reserves (Skomer). Over
the next seven days approximately 72,000 tonnes of light crude
oil was released, mainly at low tide, and 480 tonnes of heavy
fuel oil escaped whilst the vessel was being re-floated and towed
to a jetty within the waterway. The total cost of the accident
was estimated at £45 million for the clean-up and salvage
operation, £90 million in economic costs, and £29 million
in environmental impacts.
Is deepwater oil and gas production necessary
during the UK's transition to a low carbon economy?
Deepwater oil and gas production is not necessary
during the UK's transition to a low carbon economy because:
UK is already heavily reliant on imports to meet our needs for
oil & gas, just as we are for food, cars, timber etc. Similarly
we can also select more sustainable sources of these products,
in the case of oil, only utilising oil from shallower offshore
reserves (both imported and national) for the next five to ten
years until deepwater exploitation is less risky, more sustainable
and more technologically advanced.
¾ A proportion
of the UK's oil & gas must be kept in reserve in order that
we maintain security of supply for the UK's essential goods and
services, even once we are in a low carbon economy (see answer
to next question below).
exploitation and availability at this time (when oil & gas
is relatively plentiful) will only further put off the difficult
decisions, investment and commitment needed in the UK's transition
to a low carbon economy. This includes the UK's objective of delivering
32 GW energy from offshore wind that MCS supports, providing developments
are located and installed to avoid damage to nationally and internationally
important sites, species and habitats and to avoid areas of particular
sensitivity where there should be a presumption against development.
To what extent would deepwater oil and gas resources
contribute to the UK's security of supply?
The suggestion that deepwater oil reserves must be
exploited today regardless of tomorrow is illogical, and counter
to the "UK's security of supply". Security of supply
of oil & gas (as well as fish, timber etc) should not be viewed
as a short term objective for the next five or ten years or so,
but rather a long term goal. As such we need to hold some oil
in reserve and not exploit it, in order that in times of real
need, due to real scarcity of supply as imports are restricted,
or due to war, the critical services that the UK needs to operate
can continue - such as trains, ships, hospitals etc. The UK oil
& gas policy as presently drafted in the draft UK Marine
Policy Statement is therefore misguided: "The UK's policy
objective to maximize economic development of the UK's oil and
gas resources reflecting their importance to the UK's economic
prosperity and security of energy supply" (pp 45 draft UK
Marine Policy Statement).