THE UK Government was warned last night that bigger tax concessions may be needed to encourage companies to extract gas from fields west of Shetland if too much attention is paid to environmental concerns.
Concerns were raised after the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) demanded the natural environment “is not sacrificed in pursuit of wider policy objectives”, and called for extensive no-go areas.
West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Liberal Democrat MP Sir Robert Smith, a member of the new Commons energy and climate change committee, said: “The Treasury will have to make tax incentives more attractive to enable development to take place if environmental concerns add to the cost of operations to unlock the potential of these resources.”
He pointed out that the industry has a good record of respecting the environment in the North Sea, and said he expected witnesses from Oil and Gas UK to make its views clear during a meeting of the committee in Aberdeen Town House on Thursday.
SNP energy spokesman Mike Weir, who is MP for Angus and also a member of the committee, said: “We have to take into account the needs of marine life and sea birds but there has to be a balance struck between the need to respect the environment and the development of resources offshore.”
Concerns were raised after the RSPB warned in written evidence to the committee, which is investigating the state of the offshore industry, that development west of Shetland “could have potentially adverse effects on Scotland’s marine environment”.
It recommended certain sensitive areas are excluded from future rounds of oil and gas licensing, including the area around the St Kilda nature reserve and the Hebrides, adding that there should also be “a buffer zone around these areas to ensure that feeding seabirds are adequately protected”, and exclusions around “important seamounts” such as Anton Dorn and Hebrides Terrace.
The environmental body said there are significant gaps in knowledge about the environment in the area concerned, and called for “rigorous” environmental risk assessments for particular developments.
The area west of Shetland, is believed to contain extensive but dispersed gas reserves which will require operators to collaborate to bring them ashore.