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Huhne defends deep sea drilling

UK SECRETARY of state for energy and climate change, Chris Huhne, has confirmed that deep sea drilling for oil will continue to west of Shetland regardless of the outcome of a vote in the European Parliament to impose a moratorium.
Speaking on a visit to Shetland on Wednesday, Mr Huhne said it was sensible to continue drilling for the remaining oil and gas resources in UK waters rather than become dependent on imported fuel.
He also confirmed that while the UK had to invest heavily in green energy to move towards a low carbon economy, new nuclear power plants were on the cards, at least for England.
He said: “The European Parliament’s vote would be advisory at this state. If there were to be a moratorium on the European level it would have to come from the Commission and voted on by both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
“What is most interesting is that people who go into this in detail know that the regulatory regime here in the North Sea, on our side and on the Norwegian side, is very tough and very good, and we are continuing to improve it.
“We have increased the number of inspectors, we have increased the number of inspections, and we are learning the lessons of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico.
“When taking into account all of that, then frankly the choice we have is either continuing deep sea drilling with a very responsible environmental regime or importing our oil and gas, often from places which are a lot less respectful towards the environment than we are.”
The energy secretary was in Shetland thanks to an invitation from northern isles MP Alistair Carmichael who was keen to showcase the islands to the new coalition government.
During his visit Mr Huhne toured the Sullom Voe oil terminal and the site where French oil company Total is building a £500 million plant which will process gas from the Laggan and Tormore fields west of Shetland as of 2014.
The development in the frontier region with an overall budget of £2.5 billion will potentially be the key to unlocking an estimated 17 per cent of the UK’s remaining oil and gas reserves located in the area.
Mr Huhne also met with Shetland Islands Council, representatives from wind farm developer Viking Energy who plan to build a 457 MW wind farm in the isles, as well as the controversial projects’ opponents and supporters.
He said: “Scotland clearly does not want nuclear power, so there is no proposal for new nuclear power in Scotland. The coalition agreement envisages an important role for nuclear power south of the border in our overall energy strategy.
“We also have to pursue very rapidly with renewables. At the moment we are in the dunce’s corner as a country. We are 25th out of 27 European Union member states in installing renewables. That is pretty scandalous. We shouldn’t be playing down there in the conference league, we should be at the premiership.
“Let’s improve renewables, yes; we are going to have more nuclear, but let’s make sure we have clean coal and gas too, so that we can use the resources that we have out there in the North Sea in an environmentally responsible way.”
The energy secretary also hosted a half hour long question and answer session with pupils from the Brae High School, before boarding a helicopter at Scatsta airport to fly out to the Transocean drilling rig SEDCO 714 in the Edradour prospect, 70 kilometres north west of Shetland.
Mr Huhne’s first ever offshore visit was originally planned for the Alwyn North in the North Sea, but had to be rearranged on Wednesday when the oil installation became fogbound.
Speaking after the visit, Mr Carmichael said: “Shetland is absolutely crucial to the energy future. We have seen the efforts that are being made to bring gas ashore to Shetland, and there is also a big future for Shetland in renewable energy – wind, wave and tide.
“I think that is something Chris Huhne had to see for himself, and I am delighted that he has taken the time and trouble to do so.”