An explanation of the offshore SEA process, including documentation of the most recent assessment and related consultation
Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is the process of appraisal through which environmental protection and sustainable development may be considered, and factored into national and local decisions regarding Government (and other) plans and programmes – such as oil and gas licensing rounds and other offshore energy developments, including renewables and gas and carbon dioxide storage.
The SEA process and legislative context
The SEA process aims to help inform Ministerial decisions through consideration of the environmental implications of the outcome of a proposed plan/programme. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), as the principal regulator of the offshore oil and gas industry, has taken a proactive stance on the use of SEA as a means of striking a balance between promoting economic development of the UK’s offshore energy resources and effective environmental protection. Although the European Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive (Directive 2001/42/EC) was not incorporated into UK law until 2004 (The Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004, and equivalent Regulations of the devolved administrations), SEAs have been carried out since 1999 in accordance with its requirements.
The SEA Directive sets out the information to be included in the environmental report of the Strategic Environmental Assessment, namely:
- An outline of the contents, main objectives of the plan or programme and relationship with other relevant plans and programmes.
- The relevant aspects of the current state of the environment and the likely evolution thereof without implementation of the plan or programme.
- The environmental characteristics of areas likely to be significantly affected.
- Any existing environmental problems which are relevant to the plan or programme including, in particular, those relating to any areas of a particular environmental importance, such as areas designated pursuant to Directives 79/409/EEC and 92/43/EEC (the Birds and Habitats Directives).
- The environmental protection objectives, established at international, Community or Member State level, which are relevant to the plan or programme and the way those objectives and any environmental considerations have been taken into account during its preparation.
- The likely significant effects on the environment, including issues such as biodiversity, population, human health, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, cultural heritage including architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the inter-relationship between the above factors.
- The measures envisaged to prevent, reduce and, as fully as possible, offset any significant adverse effects on the environment of implementing the plan or programme.
- An outline of the reasons for selecting the alternatives dealt with and a description of how the assessment was undertaken, including any difficulties (such as technical deficiencies or lack of know-how) encountered in compiling the required information.
- A description of the measures envisaged concerning monitoring.
- A non-technical summary of the information provided under the above headings.
These effects should include secondary, cumulative, synergistic, short, medium and long term, permanent and temporary, positive and negative effects.
DECC undertook a sequence of oil and gas SEAs considering various areas of the UKCS (SEA areas 1-8), in addition to an SEA for Round 2 wind leasing. The more recent offshore energy SEA (OESEA) and OESEA2 incorporated the entire UKCS (with the exception of Northern Ireland and Scottish territorial waters for renewable energy), for technologies including oil and gas exploration and production, gas storage and offloading including carbon dioxide transport and storage, and renewable energy (including wind, wave and tidal power). A summary of the areas covered by previous DECC SEAs, when they were undertaken and for which sectors, and an overview of each of the technologies covered by the latest DECC offshore energy plan/programme is provided in the documents below.
|SEA||Area||Sectors covered||Licensing/leasing round|
|SEA 1||The deep water area along the UK and Faroese boundary||Oil & Gas||19th Round
|SEA 2||The central spine of the North Sea which contains the majority of existing UK oil and gas fields||Oil & Gas||20th Round
|SEA 2 extension||Outer Moray Firth||Oil & Gas||20th Round
|SEA 3||The remaining parts of the southern North Sea||Oil & Gas||21st Round
|R2||Three strategic regions off the coasts of England and Wales in relation to a second round of offshore wind leasing||Offshore wind||Round 2
|SEA 4||The offshore areas to the north and west of Shetland and Orkney||Oil & Gas||22nd Round
|SEA 5||Parts of the northern and central North Sea to the east of the Scottish mainland, Orkney and Shetland||Oil & Gas||23rd Round
|SEA 6||Parts of the Irish Sea||Oil & Gas||24th Round
|SEA 7||The offshore areas to the west of Scotland||Oil & Gas||25th Round
|OESEA||UK offshore waters and territorial waters of England and Wales||Oil & Gas, Offshore wind||26th Round/Round 3
|OESEA2||UK offshore waters and territorial waters of England and Wales||Oil & Gas, Offshore wind, wave and tidal, gas and carbon dioxide storage||27th Round
Public consultation on the most recent Offshore Energy SEA2 Environmental Report is now closed.
As these SEAs have been carried out, the process has evolved and been improved. The evolution and refinement of the process will continue. A required part of SEA is consultation with the public, environmental authorities and other bodies, together with such neighbouring states as may be potentially affected.
In conducting the SEA process, DECC is guided by the SEA Steering Group, composed of departmental representatives, conservation and other agencies, NGOs, industry representatives and independent experts. The diverse members’ role is to act as technical peers, guiding the selection of SEA methods and identifying the right information sources.
Previous DTI/BERR (now DECC) oil and gas SEAs 1-7, the Round 2 wind SEA and more recent OESEAs have made a number of recommendations related to SEA processes and conclusions, the natural and wider environment, and regulatory and other controls. A list of these recommendations and their current status (whether closed, still in progress or still open) is presently being reviewed by the SEA steering group, and will be available for download shortly.
Offshore Energy SEA: the current SEA
Most recently in 2011, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) conducted a Strategic Environmental Assessment (OESEA2) of a plan/programme to enable future renewable leasing for offshore wind, wave and tidal devices and licensing/leasing for seaward oil and gas rounds, hydrocarbon and carbon dioxide gas storage. The renewable energy elements of the plan/programme cover parts of the UK Renewable Energy Zone and the territorial waters of England and Wales; for hydrocarbon gas and carbon dioxide storage it applies to UK waters (territorial waters and the UK Gas Importation and Storage Zone); and for hydrocarbon exploration and production it applies to all UK waters.
It is not anticipated that the geographical or technical scope of the plan/programme on which the most recent SEA is based will alter in the near future, and it is not regarded necessary to revisit the latest SEA and initiate a new assessment and consultation phase at this stage. Additionally, the environmental baseline on which OESEA2 is based is being kept under review to ensure that the conclusions and recommendations of the SEA remain valid.
During this period DECC is maintaining an active SEA research programme; identifying information gaps (some of which are outlined in the SEA Recommendations, above) and commissioning new research where appropriate. The list of ongoing and proposed projects is presently being reviewed by the SEA steering group, and will be available for download shortly. Summaries of projects which have recently been started or completed are given in the documents below, and final reports for completed projects are available for download.
Projects recently initiated
Projects recently completed
Completed studies relating to earlier SEAs are located on the British Geological Survey (BGS) SEA archive.
You may register with the DECC govdelivery service to be kept informed about new SEA consultations and publications.
Following receipt of applications for licenses made under each seaward oil and gas licensing Round, a screening assessment has been undertaken by DECC to determine whether the award of any of the Blocks applied for would be likely to have a significant effect on a relevant European conservation site, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects. This assessment is undertaken to comply with obligations under the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001 (as amended). Following the initial screening assessment (including consultation with the statutory agencies/bodies), those blocks identified as requiring further assessment prior to decisions on whether to grant licences as subject Appropriate Assessment (AA). The reports listed below document the further assessment made in relation to Blocks subject to AA for the last three seaward licensing Rounds.
On 24th January 2014, the Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) invited applications for licences in the 28th Seaward Licensing Round. Applications for Traditional Seaward, Frontier Seaward and Promote Licences covering over 360 Blocks/part Blocks have been received. As in previous rounds, a screening assessment was undertaken by DECC to fulfil its obligations under the relevant regulations, and was published in October 2014 following advice received from the statutory nature conservation bodies on a draft of the document. The report identified which of the Block applications would be subject to Appropriate Assessment (AA) and the results of this subsequent phase of the Habitats Regulations Assessment process were published for public consultation in March 2015.
How do you get involved?
A set of new consultation principles were published by UK Government in autumn 2012, and replace the Code of Practice on Consultation that was issued in July 2008. This guidance aims to help departments make the right judgements about when, with whom and how to consult. The principles of this revised guidance are:
- Departments will follow a range of timescales rather than defaulting to a 12-week period, particularly where extensive engagement has occurred before. Consultation should be proportionate and realistic to allow stakeholders sufficient time to provide a considered response.
- Departments will need to give more thought to how they engage with and consult with those who are affected. The choice of the form of consultation will largely depend on the issues under consideration, who needs to be consulted, and the available time and resources. Consideration should be given to more informal ways of engaging that may be appropriate – for example, email or web-based forums, public meetings, working groups, focus groups, and surveys – rather than always reverting to a written consultation.
- Consultation should be ‘digital by default’, but other forms should be used where these are needed to reach the groups affected by a policy.
- The principles of the Compact between government and the voluntary and community sector will continue to be respected (i.e. where it is appropriate, and enables meaningful engagement, conduct 12-week formal written consultations, with clear explanations and rationale for shorter time-frames or a more informal approach).
The guidance does not have any statutory basis and therefore where there are mandatory consultation requirements set out in legislation, or other requirements which may affect a consultation such as confidentiality, these must be adhered to. The main elements of public and stakeholder consultation and input to the offshore energy SEA process are:
- Publication through the DECC offshore SEA webpages
(register with the DECC govdelivery service to be kept informed about new SEA consultations)
- Stakeholder meetings and expert assessment workshops
- A 3 month public consultation period following publication of the SEA documents
- Post consultation report
The objective of scoping is to identify the main issues of concern at an early stage so that they can be considered in appropriate detail in the SEA. Scoping also aids in the identification of information sources and data gaps that may need to be filled by studies or surveys to underpin the assessment. The SEA process includes a formal scoping step, the principal purposes of which are to:
- Promote stakeholder awareness of the SEA initiative
- Ensure access to all relevant environmental information
- Identify opportunities for potential collaboration and the avoidance of duplication of effort
- Identify information gaps so these could be evaluated and filled if necessary
- Identify stakeholder issues and concerns which should be considered in the SEA
Stakeholder and other workshops
A number of workshops have previously been undertaken during each of the SEAs. These have included expert assessment workshops, which bring together the expertise of the SEA Steering Group, the authors of underpinning technical reports, other users of the offshore area and the SEA team to bear on the assessment process for the particular SEA, and a separate stakeholder dialogue workshop. This workshop involves a wide variety of potential stakeholders, drawn from UK and other regulators, government advisers, local authorities, other industry representatives, academics and NGOs. The objectives of SEA stakeholder workshops are to provide stakeholders with updates on:
- UK offshore energy supply context
- The outcome of scoping
- How issues raised in scoping are being addressed in the SEA process and consultation document
- The outcomes of the assessment workshop
- Initial conclusions of the overall assessment
Stakeholder input and a summary of issues raised in the meeting is used to inform the SEA process, and is document and included in an appendix to the environmental report.
The environmental report is published for a formal 90 day public consultation period. The environmental report is advertised in the popular press and specialist journals. Copies of the report are made available free of charge either as paper or electronic versions, and more recently are posted to relevant coastal libraries where they may be consulted. Comments are invited by post or e-mail.
Post consultation report
Once the consultation period has closed, comments are published verbatim (according to the authors’ wishes). A post consultation report is then produced for consideration by DECC in the licensing process. This report is also published on the offshore SEA consultation webpage and made available as a download.
Following comments having been considered and responded provided to indicate how they have been considered in relation to the SEA and the plan/programme, a ministerial statement is made to confirm the outcome of the SEA process (e.g. on adoption of the plan/programme, to proceed with further oil and gas licensing).
Please direct queries to the Environmental Policy Unit: