Greenpeace condemns search for oil in Welsh bay

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(First Edition)

The Government is putting at risk one of the most sensitive coastlines in Britain by allowing companies to begin offshore oil exploration in Cardigan Bay, the environmental group Greenpeace said yesterday.

Tim Eggar, the Minister for Energy, announced on Friday that the Government has awarded two exploration licences in the Welsh bay where bottle-nosed dolphins and porpoises have permanent residence.

Mr Eggar said the licence application by a consortium led by Marathon Oil UK 'showed one of the strongest environmental analyses submitted' to protect wildlife. 'Given the environmental sensitivity of the area, strict conditions have been placed on the award of the licences in order to protect marine wildlife and the environment,' he said.

Greenpeace has called for the oil exploration to be suspended on the grounds that it poses an unacceptable risk to Cardigan Bay's marine environment, particularly its dolphins, porpoises and seabirds.

Alison Ross, a Greenpeace campaigner, said: 'There is an element of pollution from drilling and exploration and there is also the risk of accidents from oil-producing and transport.' She said offshore industrial development was not subject to the same environmental controls imposed on onshore development.

Marathon Oil will begin work this year using seismic techniques to locate oil deposits, Mr Eggar said. 'If the prospects identified are confirmed, a new basin will be opened.'

The trade and industry department said measures were being imposed to limit environmental damage, including a ban on oil-based muds used to lubricate drilling. No drilling will be allowed at certain times of the year near breeding colonies of seabirds, and a ban in drilling will be imposed in a 'specific, highly sensitive zone'.