Some 27% of offshore oil and gas sites licenced last month sit in marine protected areas prized for their rare habitats and species.
Last month, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) approved 27 new North Sea oil and gas licences to ensure that “where production can be achieved it happens as quickly as possible.”
A Greenpeace Unearthed investigation found that 27% (17) of the blocks sit wholly or partly within a marine protected site.
The marine protected site most affected by the oil and gas licences is the North-east Faroe-Shetland channel, which is believed to be a migration route for marine mammals, as well as a home to fragile deep-sea sponges and cold-water corals.
Out of the 17 blocks, 11 went to Shell, three to Italian oil company Eni and three to Athena Exploration.
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While Shell declined to comment, an Eni spokesperson told Unearthed that while the company’s licence area “partially overlaps” with a marine conservation zone, “no activity of any kind has ever been foreseen in the area that falls within the marine protected area”.
A NSTA spokesperson said: “Vulnerable and protected habitats and species are considered throughout the licensing and permitting process and licences are only awarded when the NSTA has received permission from OPRED that their environmental assessment requirements are met.”
The NSTA has emphasised that, even after a licence is granted, the licensee will still need to get further consents from the authority before they can conduct seismic surveys, drill exploration wells or progress towards full production.