North Sea set for oil/offshore battleground

On the eve of the UK’s biggest renewable energy event, the country’s oil industry has warned of a face-off with wind developers over the North Sea. In a submission to […]

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By Kelvin Ross

On the eve of the UK’s biggest renewable energy event, the country’s oil industry has warned of a face-off with wind developers over the North Sea.

In a submission to a government consultation on the UK’s renewable targets, trade body Oil&Gas UK said offshore projects planned for British waters would see renewable firms fighting with oil companies for the same patch of water.

Oil&GasUK said that wind farms could get in the way of drilling rigs, pipelines, underwater equipment and helicopter flights.

And the association said that some oil companies could be forced into legal action to defend themselves against the offshore wind sector.

“It would be most unfortunate if individual licensees were forced to resort to legal processes in order to defend the rights granted under their existing petroleum licences,” Oil&Gas UK said in its submission.

OIL&Gas UK believes that while renewables have much to offer Britain, it is oil and gas that will remain the dominant energy drivers in the near future. In recent months, the trade body has taken a measured approach to renewables, advocating oil and gas as a stepping stone to alternative energies.

At the Conservative party Conference last month, Oil& Gas UK’s chief executive Malcolm Webb said that gas had a “vital” role to play in a low carbon economy. He said it should be seen as “a transition to renewables”, adding that it offered security, affordability and was low carbon.

The news of potential hostilities between wind farm operators and the oil and gas industry comes as Statoil today revealed it has been granted eight further exploration licences for the UK Continental Shelf. The licences are part of 144 granted last week by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Following the latest licensing round, Energy Minister Charles Hendry gave a ringing endorsement of oil and gas. “Whilst in the long-term we want to decarbonise our energy system, we have moved swiftly to offer these licences as we must realise the optimum value from the UK’s energy resources and ensure secure energy supplies.”

That the oil and gas may be hostile to wind farms should come as no surprise. Many in the shipping industry have been opposed to wind farms in general, not least because they are seen as one more thing for ships to navigate around.

And those responsible for air travel and freight are also not always in the wind farm fanclub. NATS, the UK’s air navigation services provider, is one of the biggest objectors to wind farm applications in the country.

And tomorrow it will take those objections into the heart of ‘enemy lines’, when it will be running a stand at Renewable 2010 in Glasgow. NATS has chosen to attend the conference and exhibition “to discuss how we’re working with developers to reduce the number of air traffic radar-related objections raised and create mitigation solutions to enable growth in the renewable energy industry without compromising aviation safety.”

The organisation says wind farm developers could save themselves time and money if they talked early to NATS, which could offer an “insight into potential conflicts with air traffic radar systems as well as strategies to resolve these issues”.