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 for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) formerly DTI, BERR and DECC (the department), as the principal environmental 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 2009/147/EC 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.
The department 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 SEAs (OESEA, OESEA2 and OESEA3) incorporated the entire UKCS (with the exception of Northern Ireland and Scottish territorial waters for renewable energy, and Scottish territorial waters for carbon dioxide transport and storage), 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 (2001)|
|SEA 2||The central spine of the North Sea which contains the majority of existing UK oil and gas fields||Oil & Gas||20th Round (2002)|
|SEA 2 extension||Outer Moray Firth||Oil & Gas||20th Round (2002)|
|SEA 3||The remaining parts of the southern North Sea||Oil & Gas||21st Round (2003)|
|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 (2003)|
|SEA 4||The offshore areas to the north and west of Shetland and Orkney||Oil & Gas||22nd Round (2004)|
|SEA 5||Parts of the northern and central North Sea to the east of the Scottish mainland, Orkney and Shetland||Oil & Gas||23rd Round (2005)|
|SEA 6||Parts of the Irish Sea||Oil & Gas||24th Round (2006)|
|SEA 7||The offshore areas to the west of Scotland||Oil & Gas||25th Round (2008)|
|OESEA||UK offshore waters and territorial waters of England and Wales||Oil & Gas, Offshore wind||26th Round/Round 3 (2009)|
|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 (2011)
28th Round (2014)
|OESEA3||UK offshore waters and territorial waters of England and Wales||Oil & Gas, Offshore wind, wave and tidal, gas and carbon dioxide storage||29th Round (2016)
Supplementary Round (2016)
30th Round (2017)
31st Round (2018)
31st Supplementary Round (2019)
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, the Department 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.
Completed studies relating to earlier SEAs are located on the British Geological Survey (BGS) SEA archive.
A series of recommendations have been made in the previous offshore energy SEA Environmental Reports on SEA processes and conclusions, the natural and wider environment, and regulatory and other controls. A compilation of these recommendations and their current status (whether closed, in progress or still open) is available for download below.
Offshore Energy SEA: the current SEA
The Department conducted a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of a draft 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 plan/programme was adopted in July 2016. The renewable energy elements of the plan/programme cover parts of the UK Exclusive Economic Zone and the territorial waters of England and Wales (the Scottish Renewable Energy Zone and Scottish and Northern Irish waters within the 12 nautical mile territorial sea limit are not included in this part); for hydrocarbon gas and carbon dioxide storage it applies to the UK Exclusive Economic Zone and the territorial waters of England and Wales (with the exception of the territorial waters of Scotland for carbon dioxide storage); and for hydrocarbon exploration and production it applies to all UK waters.
The Environmental Report for OESEA3 has an indicative time horizon (i.e. period of currency) of 5 years. During this period, as with previous SEAs, the Department intends to maintain an active SEA research programme; identifying information gaps (some of which were outlined in the last set of SEA Recommendations), commissioning new research where appropriate, and promoting its wider dissemination through a series of research seminars and publications. This will also involve continued engagement with the SEA Steering Group and review of the information base for the SEA, including the environmental baseline, other relevant plans and programmes, and policy and regulation.
A review of the OESEA3 Environmental Report was undertaken in 2018 in the light of a range of new information covering leasing and licensing; new initiatives and the continued relevance of the plan/programme; the environmental baseline and the understanding of potential effects associated with the plan/programme. The SEA conclusions and recommendations were also reviewed in the context of this updated information, and it has been determined that these remain current and can continue to inform and support future leasing/licensing. The SEA Steering Group reviewed a draft of the report and the review document is available for download below.
Offshore Energy SEA: research programme
The department has maintained an active SEA research programme; identifying information gaps (some of which are outlined in previous SEA Recommendations) and commissioning new research where appropriate. This has been part of the department’s offshore SEA programme since 1999.
A summary of recent research and its status is provided in the document below, and final reports (where published) are available for download. Completed studies relating to earlier SEAs are located on the British Geological Survey (BGS) SEA archive or the research page for OESEA2.
The authors and researchers involved in SEA studies have been encouraged to submit papers for peer reviewed publication. A list of recent publications is given below.
Following announcement of a Seaward Licensing Round or following receipt of applications for licences made under each Seaward Licensing Round, a screening assessment is undertaken by the department to determine whether the award of any of the Blocks offered or 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. Those sites and related Blocks for which a potential for likely significant effect is identified at the screening stage are subject to further assessment (Appropriate Assessment, (AA)) prior to the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) making a decision on whether to grant licences. These assessments are undertaken to comply with obligations under the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001 (as amended).
The most recent screening assessment was published in January 2020, and considered the potential for likely significant effects from potential activities in Blocks offered as part of the 32nd Seaward Licensing Round. The screening identified 239 whole or part Blocks as requiring further assessment, should they be applied for.
Following the initial screening assessment (including consultation with the statutory agencies/bodies), those Blocks applied for and identified as requiring further assessment will be subject to an Appropriate Assessment (AA) prior to the Oil & Gas Authority making a decision on whether to grant licences. The 32nd Offshore Licensing Round closed for applications on 12th November 2019.
The reports listed below document the further assessment undertaken in relation to Blocks subject to AA in the previous nine Seaward Licensing Rounds.
How do you get involved?
The OESEA consultation process has been designed to be in keeping with the Cabinet Office guidance on Consultation Principles for engaging stakeholders when developing policy and legislation. 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 Department’s offshore SEA webpages
- Stakeholder meetings and expert assessment workshops
- A suitable public consultation period following publication of the Environmental Report
- 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 been undertaken prior to each SEA. 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. Additionally, stakeholder workshops are held involving a wide variety of potential stakeholders, drawn from other government departments, local authorities, other industry bodies, 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 formal public consultation. The publication of 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 email.
Post consultation report
Following closure of the consultation period, the comments are given due consideration and a post consultation report is then produced. The post consultation report is published on the offshore SEA consultation webpage and made available as a download. Along with the post consultation report, a compilation of the consultation comments are published verbatim (according to the authors’ wishes).
Following publication of the post consultation report, 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: