Consultation on EIA rules for oil and gas

Draft regulations to apply EC environmental assessment requirements to offshore oil and gas projects and onshore gas pipelines have been issued for consultation by the Department of Trade and Industry. 1

The DTI has dragged its feet in applying the 1985 EC Directive on environmental assessment (EA) to the oil and gas industry. Offshore developments were brought within the EA regime, ten years late, in April (ENDS Report 280, p 38 ), and the DTI has never proceeded with draft regulations issued in 1996 to apply the Directive to onshore gas pipelines (ENDS Report 260, p 35 ). The Directive was amended last year (ENDS Report 252, pp 39-41 ), and the changes need to be brought into force next March.

Under the draft regulations on onshore gas pipelines, pipelines more than 40 kilometres long and over 800mm in diameter will always require EA. For other pipelines wholly or partly within a "sensitive area" or which have a design operating pressure of over 7 bar gauge, the developer will have to ask the Secretary of State for a "determination" whether EA is required. The Secretary of State may also order an EA in other cases where a pipeline is likely to have "significant" environmental effects.

The regulations contain standard procedural requirements, including the provisions introduced by the 1997 Directive for a developer to request the Secretary of State's opinion as to the scope of an environmental statement and a duty on the Secretary of State to make public the "main reasons and considerations" on which his decision whether to grant consent for a project was based.

According to the DTI, about 10-12 Transco pipelines are likely to require EA each year.

The second set of draft regulations will introduce provisions in the 1997 Directive on the "scoping" of environmental statements and publicity for the Secretary of State's decisions into the EA regime for offshore oil and gas projects established in April.

In addition, however, the DTI has proposed several deregulatory changes which, it says, "are warranted in the light of the experience of administering" this year's regulations. These would dispense with the need for EA for repeat drilling and small pipeline projects, or for renewals of production consents which entail an increase of up to 20% in oil or gas production, unless "significant" environmental effects were likely.

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