ISSN 2330-717X

EU Wants Tougher Standards For Offshore Oil And Gas Drilling

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Site specific impact assessments and plans for environmental and safety procedures should be a precondition for all offshore oil and gas operations, believes Parliament’s Energy Committee. Site-specific contingency plans should be submitted and approved prior to starting the drilling.

These demands were set out in a draft resolution adopted by the committee on Tuesday by 41 votes to 6 with no abstentions.

“The Parliament is laying out its proposals for further EU action in the area following the spill last year which led to one of the USA’s greatest wildlife and economic disasters. This report sets out suggestions to prevent accidents happening, to take swift action if one does occur and to provide clarity regarding liability”, said Vicky Ford (ECR, UK), who drafted the resolution for the Energy Committee.

Today’s draft resolution is designed to be Parliament’s response to a Commission consultation paper issued last October in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. It also follows on from an EP resolution of October 2010 on EU action on oil exploration and extraction in Europe. The Commission will unveil new draft legislation early this autumn.

Conditions for obtaining a drilling licence

The highest safety and environmental standards should apply in all areas of offshore oil and gas activities, stresses the resolution. All drilling applications must be subject to independent verification and regular inspections carried out by “independent and trained experts acquainted with local conditions”. Environmental impact assessments should be a precondition for obtaining a licence, whilst a site-specific contingency plan – including potential hazards, pollution sources and effects and a response strategy for potential relief wells – should be submitted at least two months prior to the starting of any drilling. Operations should start only when this plan is approved by the national authorities.

Protecting whistleblowers

Employees should be able to blow the whistle on security failures or hazards anonymously, to protect them from harassment, argue MEPs. The industry should also put in place regular training programmes for employees and employers.

Public-private responsibility

The prime responsibility for responding to disasters lies with the industry, based on the ‘polluter-pays’ principle. However, the public sector must oversee the safety and coordination of any disaster response. The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) could coordinate responses in the event of an accident, while national contingency plans must be kept up to date and sufficient equipment must be available in or around every European sea to deal with large, worst-case scenario spills.

A European regulator for all offshore operations?

Lastly, the Energy Committee doubts whether a European regulator for all offshore operations would bring added-value to justify “draining scarce regulatory resources” from national authorities.

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