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Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, can the Minister tell us under whose authority we can give permission for someone to sink an installation of this kind into the Atlantic, bearing in mind that no more than any other country do we own those waters? Is there some international agreement? Is the Minister aware that on the news this morning, when reference was made to the protestations of Greenpeace, a spokesman on behalf of the company which is to sink this oil installation said that the adverse effects would be negligible? Cannot that word be much misused? Is it negligible to the public in general? It is certainly negligible to the oil company, which will save a great deal of money. Is the Minister aware that everyone agreed with the view taken?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I did not see the matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, refers. From the statement it is not clear what everybody agrees with. The legal position as regards this kind of matter is complicated, but, once it has been unravelled, it is relatively straightforward. Under international law, the London Convention applies, together with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. As regards the North East Atlantic, the provisions of the London Convention are supplemented by the Oslo and Paris Conventions, which in turn are being subsumed in another convention which this country has ratified but not yet implemented in domestic law. I refer to the OSPAR Convention.
As far as this particular proposal is concerned, three permits were required before the structure can be lawfully sunk in the manner proposed. First, approval is needed under an abandonment programme. This is granted under the Petroleum Act 1987, to which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy referred. Secondly, a licence is necessary under the Food and Environment Protection Act, which implements our obligations under international law. Finally, in this instance, a licence is needed under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, can the noble Lord explain something about the amount and type of hazardous substances that are present in such structures? In the event of disposal at sea, who is responsible for checking that the hazardous substances have been disposed of and who will monitor the situation thereafter?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, we are talking about a generalised description of offshore installations. Clearly, what is required will be decided on case-by-case basis. The detail of what is proposed to be done in taking off all the bits of the structure that can be removed before any sinking might take place is described in the abandonment programme and then becomes a legal obligation. I understand that the Brent Spar installation contains about 100 tonnes of toxic sludge, of which about 90 per cent. is sand. The rest comprises heavy, stable oil residues somewhat similar to bitumen. I understand that within that bitumen is a very small proportion of heavy metals which are not significantly different from those found in a similar weight of plankton or marine sediment. In addition, something like 30 tonnes of scaling, of a very low level of radioactivity, derive from the oil which comes through the terminal. In terms of its power, that amounts to about the same as would emanate from a group of granite houses in Aberdeen and is many orders of magnitude within international standards. In addition, there is paint on the structure, as well as some sacrificial anodes which are zinc-corrosion preventers. Everything on the structure is being removeddown to the last lightbulb.
Lord Rea: My Lords, with regard to the cost of onshore dismantling of the Brent Spar, is the Minister aware of the detailed engineering feasibility report by Schmidt Engineering of Rotterdam which was given to Shell in 1992 and which stated that the installation could be dismantled at a cost of less than £10 million, which is less than one-quarter of the sum which has been quoted by Shell? Is not that another reason for putting on hold the decision to dump the Brent Spar in the Atlantic?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am not aware of the report to which the noble Lord refers. However, the proposals which were considered in the abandonment programme were checked by Her Majesty's Government when forming a view on the merits of the prospective options of either dismantling onshore or using deep-water disposal. Another point that I believe to be relevant is that it is estimated that in terms of human safety, it is likely to be six times more dangerous to dismantle onshore than to have deep-sea disposal.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, in his otherwise very clear answer to me, the noble Lord did not mention monitoring. Will he now answer my question about who will be responsible for monitoring, since presumably we are talking about international waters?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I know that it is monitored, but I cannot recall whether by the British Government or the Oslo Commission. However, I assure the House that the company is liable for any results that may arise from the material that is disposed of in the sea.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that when he said, "This is a complicated issue but once unravelled is relatively straightforward", he should have used the adjective "confused"? Is it not a fact that decommissioning onshore is more expensive, but that that cost can be offset against tax, so that the taxpayer picks up 60 per cent. of the burden under relief that was afforded by Mr. John Major when he was either Chancellor or Chief Secretary to the Treasury? Has not this decision rather more to do with cost than with the environment?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's first question is "yes", and to the second, it is "no". This matter was dealt with in accordance with the provisions laid down by Parliament and our international obligations.
|Petitions for leave|
|1st Extension of Time||200|
|2nd Extension of Time||300|
|3rd and Subsequent Extensions||500|
|Agreed Interlocutory Petitions||200|
|Opposed Interlocutory Petitions||500|
|Waiver of Security||100|
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