Contract and Licence Transparency

A description of the UK extractives licensing regime can be found on our Oil and Gas and Mining and Quarrying pages, under ‘legal framework and licensing.’ This page explains the UK Government's policy on contract and licence transparency and details the UK EITI Multi-Stakeholder Group’s work to meet EITI requirements on contract and licence disclosure.

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UK Government policy on contract and licence transparency

The UK Government is committed to greater transparency across its operations to enable the public to hold public bodies and politicians to account. The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 create a legal requirement for in-scope bodies to publish all advertised UK public sector procurement opportunities and contract awards above certain thresholds on Contracts Finder. The thresholds are £10,000 for central government bodies and £25,000 for wider public sector bodies. More information can be found on Gov.uk.

The UK is committed to Open Government and publishes a UK National Action Plan for Open Government every two years. The most recent National Action Plan was published in May 2019 and included new commitments from each of the devolved administrations. It includes the following commitment on natural resource transparency:

To enhance company disclosure regarding payments to governments for the sale of publicly owned oil, gas, and minerals, and to help establish a common global reporting standard. This includes undertaking a scoping study to review what potential national action the UK could take; maintaining the commitment to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI); to implementation of the UK-transposed EU Directives for mandatory reporting by companies; and providing clarity for UK-listed extractive companies under the Disclosure Guidance and Transparency Rules.

A range of government bodies and agencies grant licences and contracts that govern the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and minerals. A table showing the structure and nature of the extractive licence and contract regime in the UK is available here.

The UK EITI Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) does not deem it necessary for the UK Government to publish a specific policy on the disclosure of contracts and licences that govern the extractives sector provided that individual government bodies and agencies are offering an acceptable level of transparency. The MSG has therefore undertaken to summarise the level of licence and contract disclosure for different government bodies and agencies and to highlight any areas where further disclosure is needed to be fully compliant with the EITI Standard. The summary table is below:

Figure 1: MSG assessment of licence disclosure by UK government bodies and agencies

Government body/agencyInformation available (including highlighting any information not disclosed and reasons for this)
OGA

The OGA publishes current oil and gas licences and licence reports under their Petroleum e-business assignments and relinquishment system (PEARS). The OGA also publishes offshore and onshore maps which are available for nil cost; these interactive maps allow users to find the co-ordinates of each licence and download at nil cost, individual licences. The OGA publishes field equity shares from 2014-2020 (instead of licence shares). The OGA Regulatory framework sets out how they regulate the exploration and development of the UK's offshore and onshore oil and gas resources.

The following omissions were raised during the UK’s first validation against the EITI Standard:

  • The disclosure of licence transfers
  • The dates of application for licences

The MSG is working with the OGA to see when and how this information could be disclosed.

Scottish Government

Licensing in Scotland is now devolved. An interactive map has been developed to provide access to information about licences currently held in Scotland (information about licences previously held in Scotland is available from the OGA). The map and all available metadata is available through the Marine Scotland website

No new licences have been issued in Scotland since 2008, therefore no information on licence application, award, transfer and expiry dates is currently disclosed. The MSG is working with the Scottish Government to ensure that they are in a position to disclose this information when any new licences are awarded.

Welsh Government

The Welsh petroleum licences and associated decisions are now live on the Welsh Government website.

Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence consent tracker

Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences (PEDLs)

Both planning authorities and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) publish their own registries of applications and consents.  The third tab on the consent tracker spreadsheet contains details of the NRW permits granted to date (and the associated planning permissions).   Columns, L, M and N, contain the NRW environmental permit details; issue date, permit number and regulated activity respectively.  This information can then be used to locate relevant documents on the NRW public registry.  Further details on NRW licensing is below.

Northern Ireland Government

Department for the Economy (DfE) Northern Ireland publishes current licences and a map showing licence areas on their website. DfE have now uploaded information on legislation and guidance documents for the award and transfer of licences to their website. The DfE publishes a description of the process for the award of Mineral Prospecting Licences (MPLs) and how to apply for licences to explore for and extract minerals and petroleum.

DfE Northern Ireland have  added a table to their website that includes information on dates of application, award and expiry for licences. 

The Crown Estate

Marine minerals

All licensed application and exploration/option marine aggregate area details are published on the Crown Estate Open Data Portal and are available at no charge. However, TCE does not disclose contracts and agreements relating to minerals where they contain commercially confidential information.

Award and expiry dates for marine aggregates are now available on the Open Data Portal, application dates for marine aggregates will soon be added in the same place. The assessment criteria for marine aggregates has now been added to the TCE’s website, in the Aggregates Lifecycle Document. Data for the oil and gas pipelines and terrestrial minerals portfolios is expected to be made available by the end of 2020.

Marine pipelines

Information regarding the process for transferring and awarding marine pipeline licences is available here.

Information on licences awarded and transferred is available here.

Terrestrial minerals

Information regarding the process for awarding and transferring terrestrial mineral licences, as well as the technical and financial criteria used is now available here. Information on licences awarded and transferred is available here.

Crown Estate Scotland

Current terms and conditions for pipelines and marine works are published on the CES website: These terms and conditions have recently been the subject of a periodic review, which is in the process of being finalised. Once updated terms and conditions are available, they will be published.

Crown Estate Scotland does not issue licences or contracts to allow extractive related activities. Permission to undertake extractive related activities is the subject of local planning permission.

There are no other licences or contracts granted for mineral extraction or related to oil and gas extraction.

Crown Estate Scotland plan to publish a Register of Licences on their website very shortly.

Marine Management Organisation (MMO)

In order to dredge for aggregates, an interested party would need to obtain a marine licence from the MMO (for activities in English waters and for Northern Ireland offshore waters) as well as reach an agreement with The Crown Estate (TCE) who manage the seabed around England, Northern Ireland and Wales. 

All the licences granted by the can be viewed on the MMO’s Public Register. Further information on marine licensing can be found here.

A commercial contract with TCE is usually defined through a competitive tender process and involves agreement on a specified royalty rate that must be paid for every tonne of aggregate produced from the TCE’s consent. Further information on TCE’s tender rounds can be found on the TCE’s website.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW)

Regulatory consent (marine licence) for minerals extraction in Wales must be obtained from Natural Resources Wales. The application and issue of these marine licences are available on the NRW website. NRW will only issue the onshore environmental permits. These are also available on the list of licences provided by the Welsh Government.

NRW does not issue licences for mineral exploitation within the Welsh Government Woodland Estate. NRW manage the land placed at their disposal, the woodland estate, including access, forestry and for energy developments.  

Natural Resources Wales / Check for a permit, licence or exemption (Public Register)

NRW only issues environmental permits under the environmental permitting regulations, as opposed to licences. The permits cannot generate any income other than subsistence fees. The permits don’t grant any access to minerals, they just allow the developers to generate waste (oil and gas drilling is technically a waste operation).

There are no permits in Wales for actual petroleum extraction.  If there were, NRW would only permit a specific extraction activity, and not access rights/privileges. The last permit issued by NRW was in 2016.

All minerals in the UK are owned privately, apart from those expressly reserved for the Crown or a specific public authority (such as coal, gold, silver and the mineral resources on and beneath the seabed within 200 nautical miles of the coast).  Coal extraction is administered by the Coal Authority who own all UK coal on behalf of the country.  The Coal Authority issues licences for mining operations, and in Wales, these must be authorised by Welsh Ministers before they take effect.  Gold and Silver is owned by the Crown Estate who must issue a licence for extraction.  Mining operations may require a mining waste operations environmental permit from NRW, and most likely planning.

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) – Northern Ireland

Regulatory consent (marine licence) for minerals extraction in Northern Ireland must be obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. Information on marine licensing and a public register of marine licences are available on the DAERA website. 

Marine Scotland

Regulatory consent (marine licence) for minerals extraction in Scotland must be obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. Information on onshore oil and gas licences and marine licences is available on the Marine Scotland website.

Coal Authority

The Coal Authority holds an offline public registry of licences and does not publish licences online. Information about coal licences can be requested by post and email. The Authority provides online coal mining data including on licence areas and known areas of activity. 

To note: in 2018 the UK EITI Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) decided to exclude payments to the Coal Authority from the EITI reconciliation process as they are no longer material relative to government revenues.

At their meeting on 16th March the MSG agreed that coal should be in-scope for requirements relating to contract and licence transparency under the 2019 EITI Standard

The Coal Authority issue licences for the working of coal and underground coal gasification (UCG), together with agreements to enter its coal estate for other processes such as coal bed methane extraction, abandoned mine methane extraction, mine water heat recovery and deep energy exploitation.There are currently no plans to issue any further licences.

Coal Authority Licences and Agreements are published here.

 

New requirements for contracts and licences under the 2019 EITI Standard

The 2019 EITI Standard requires all implementing countries to disclose any contracts and licenses that are granted, entered into or amended from 1 January 2021. Implementing countries are encouraged to publicly disclose any contracts and licenses that provide the terms attached to the exploitation of oil, gas and minerals.

In January 2021 the Multi‑Stakeholder Group agreed a plan for disclosing contracts with a clear time frame for implementation and addressing any barriers to comprehensive disclosure. The plan includes the following timebound measures:

  • Correspondence from the UK EITI Champion to all relevant government bodies and agencies outlining the new requirement and highlighting its importance.
  • Joint working between UK EITI Secretariat and the relevant government bodies and agencies to ensure compliance against the new requirement.This has included a number of meetings with the relevant organisations and bodies to discuss options and progress.
  • Regular progress against the requirement to be monitored by the Compliance sub-group.
  • Progress continues to be reported to the MSG on a regular basis.