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  • Peers for the Planet

Peers propose protections for marine habitats and ending venting and flaring

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill recently had its Committee stage debate in the House of Lords, with P4P Peers securing support from across the parties for proposed changes covering marine health, renewables, and emissions reductions.


Venting and Flaring


An amendment was tabled to ensure that new and existing offshore oil and gas sites ended the practice of routine venting and flaring, which releases methane – a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than C02 over a 20 year period — into the atmosphere. It was similar to an amendment tabled in the House of Commons by Sir Alok Sharma and consistent with a January 2023 recommendation of the Environmental Audit Committee for a ban on venting and flaring.


Baroness Hayman, who led the amendment in the House of Lords, described it as a “simple and pragmatic proposal” and supporting Peers argued that the Bill, which does not materially change how licences will be granted to oil and gas companies, should be used as a vehicle to make faster progress on the sector’s methane emission reduction plan, which at present are non-statutory and below the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations of what is achievable.


Marine Environment


Two amendments were tabled relating to marine protection issues which again attracted support from across the parties.


Baroness Willis of Summertown tabled an amendment to exclude Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) from future licensing applications. The highly destructive impacts of oil and gas developments on marine ecosystems are not well known, but their impact is severe. On Friday 03 May, 31 new oil and gas licences were announced by the NTSA, with early analysis suggesting 21 of the licences issued, and over a third of the blocks on offer in the 33rd licensing round overlap with Marine Protected Areas.


Peers argued that the ban on ending new licensing activity in Marine Protected Areas is needed if we are to achieve both our statutory 2030 (to restore 30% of the ocean) and 2042 (our 25 year Environment Plan) targets and raised issues surrounding the lack of transparency around the advice the regulator, OPRED (Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning) receives from the JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) and how this filters through to decisions made by the North Sea Transition Authority, and ultimately government minsters.

 

“The more I have looked into the processes for assessment of the environmental impact of oil drilling on MPAs, the more convinced I have become that we simply do not have in place a system that is fit for purpose, certainly not to protect these marine protected areas” – Baroness Willis of Summertown


Lord Randall of Uxbridge tabled an amendment to require a ‘marine spatial prioritisation plan’ to be published in line with the UKs statutory climate and nature targets. He argued that it was needed because at present decisions were made “on a case-by-case basis without strategic oversight” in a siloed fashion resulting in situations where some government departments were at odds with others – highlighting examples where, in the same area, bottom trawling could be banned by Defra while DESNZ approved oil and gas activities.


Other issues


Peers argued in favour of a number of other areas the Bill could be improved, including the need for a green skills retraining plan to help those leaving the oil and gas sector to retrain in the green economy, as well as proposals to strengthen the climate tests in the Bill, and for a sunset provision to be included.


“Rather than losing the 30,000 or so direct roles in oil and gas and the valuable skills of those workers, who may be forced to move elsewhere, we need to nurture their transformed skills into the new net-zero roles. My amendment proposes that there should be no new applications for licences until the Secretary of State has published a green skills retraining plan setting out what support the Government will provide for those in the oil and gas sector who wish to transition to work in green economy jobs”. Baroness Hayman

 

Peers will have an opportunity to pursue these issues as the Bill progresses through to Report Stage in the Lords on Tuesday 04 June 2024



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