The Atlantic Margin has been targeted by some environmental groups as being a key focus for the issues of global warming and society's over-reliance on fossil fuels.
The Atlantic Margin is irrelevant in the global context and cannot make a significant impact:
- Atlantic Margin production facilities have a standard of low emissions, which are an improvement on other sources.
- existing developments, when at full production, will only provide less than 0.4% world supplies.
On the issue of how to respond internationally to the global warming issue the industry, and the public at large, are mixed in their responses.
Environmental (regional) - (1)
There have been claims that the Atlantic Margin region should be left in a pristine condition by stopping industry activity before it starts.
The industry recognises the environmental sensitivities and the importance of protecting this area. Several actions have been set-up to ensure this - including establishing the Atlantic Frontier Environmental Forum (AFEF) to share and build regional knowledge and discuss issues of interest. AFEF, formed in 1996, includes representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGO's), academics, local authorities, government departments and the oil & gas industry.
Industry has been active in the Atlantic Margin region for decades, the area has seen action in two world wars and currently has extensive European freight and tanker shipping operations. Fishing is important in this area, both midwater and bottom trawling. The oil and gas industry too has been here since 1972, with over 150 wells drilled and thousands of square km of seismic surveys run since that time.
Descriptions of activity of both fishing and oil & gas industries are given in several publications, e.g. Kingfisher Notebook on West of Shetland.
Environmental (regional) - (2)
Even recognising past activity, concerns have been expressed about the level of environmental knowledge and the potential for impact from the industry's activities.
After the discovery of a potentially commercial oilfield (Foinaven in 1992) the increased level of seismic and drilling activity by the industry also triggered an increased level of environmental surveys and assessments. Industry has funded extensive new research, both by individual companies and also in co-operation through the Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network (AFEN). Since 1994, some £5 million has been spent by AFEN and funding continues through 2001. Key focus has been cetaceans, seabirds, the seabed, and coastal protection, all studies have significantly increased scientific and public knowledge and modified industry practice.
Communities living around the Atlantic Margin are dependent on the seas of this region for their livelihood. It is therefore important that they are involved in decisions regarding the Atlantic Margin resources. The region also has internationally significant seabird colonies and whale migration paths, and so consultation should also include broader national bodies.
The industry has recognised this in forming AFEF and in the level of assessment and consultation undertaken before developments start. The detailed procedures of assessment, informing and discussing with interested parties undertaken by the most recent developments (Foinaven and Schiehallion) established new practices. These practices are now required by law for all future developments through, the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations (DTI website).
These consultations have changed design and operating procedures. The design of the Foinaven standby vessel and the three tiered oil-spill response contingency plans are products of this process. Local fish farmers and others have also been engaged in preparing, through exercises, for a contingency we work hard to ensure is never needed.
The oil and gas industry activity in the Atlantic Margin is of significance to national employment, but especially of importance locally within the economies of the Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles and Highland regions. It is estimated that nationally over 10,000 jobs are supported by the Atlantic Margin activities alone. The production is also important in arresting the expected decline in UK production, to ensure self sufficiency in oil and gas to 2010 and beyond. The investments in this region have been £2-3 billion to date, but this will grow with continued exploration and production activity.
Much of this region is deep water and the UK, complemented by other European supply industries, currently leads the world in floating, subsea and remote diverless completion technology.