Bottlenosed Dolphins Suspend Exploration in North Sea

Parts of Cardigan Bay on the Welsh coast may be off limits for oil and gas exploration due to a school of bottlenose dolphins, Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks announced today.

However, part of the Moray Firth, an area in Scotland that is also home to a population of bottlenose dolphins, looks more likely to get the go ahead for an oil and gas exploration licence.

The draft environmental assessments - which are now subject to a three month public consultation - come after a report by the sea mammal research unit at St Andrew's University found that not enough was currently known about the population of the dolphins in the Cardigan Bay area to judge how they might be affected by any exploration.

"Most areas covered by the 24th offshore oil and gas licensing round have had the go ahead but I was concerned about the dolphin populations in Cardigan Bay and also the Moray Firth,” said Wicks. “That's why I commissioned the St Andrew's review into what impact licensing would have on those areas.

"My officials visited Cardigan Bay to hear local views first hand and we also received numerous comments from interested parties concerned about the resident bottlenose dolphin population there. At the moment we don't know enough about the number and distribution of the dolphins to be able to decide if it would be safe to explore that area.

"The oil and gas sector is one of the UK's most important industries. Our role is to encourage the continued development of the North Sea while complying with laws which protect our environment. The draft assessments conclude that there is a clear difference in the amount of information available on the bottlenose dolphin populations in Cardigan Bay and the Moray Firth.

"We know enough about the dolphins at the Moray Firth to make sure that any oil and gas activity is carried out in a manner which minimises or even cancels adverse impacts. We can't currently say the same about Cardigan Bay."

Both draft assessments will now be subject to a three month public consultation.