EU nations tighten offshore drilling regulations


By Oil & Gas Financial Journal staff 

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution to tighten up rules governing offshore oil and gas exploration and compensation, but stopped short of issuing for a moratorium on new deepwater drilling. 

The non-legislative resolution was adopted with 601 votes in favor, 23 against and 13 abstaining. Environment Committee Chair Jo Leinen said, "Parliament has issued a clear call to the Commission to take steps towards eliminating the deficits in safety and liability standards." 

While the committee favors a moratorium and 285 MEPs voted in favor of a drilling ban, 323 voted against instituting a moratorium. 

The European Commission is reviewing EU safety and liability legislation. Parliament members (MEPs) have expressed concern that the environmental liability directive, which ensures polluters pay for their damage, does not cover oil rigs. 

"A major oil leak in European waters would be catastrophic not only to the environment, but also to activities such as fishing and tourism. MEPs want the Commission to investing the possible merits of setting up an EU-wide insurance scheme or emergency fun to cover these risks," according to a statement from the European Parliament. 

The EU Energy Council is expected to address the topic of oil rig safety at its meeting in Luxembourg on Oct. 15. 

According to media reports, EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger is calling for a ban on deepwater drilling offshore EU states. In July, Oettinger said that, given the current circumstances, "Any responsible government would at present practically freeze new permits for drilling with extreme parameters and conditions. This can mean a de facto moratorium on new drills until the causes of the accident are known and corrective measures are taken for such frontier operations as the ones carried out by the Deepwater Horizon." 

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, said in July that the Commissioner's comments point to a wholly unjustifiable, knee-jerk reaction to the Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Webb said, "Oil & Gas UK maintains that, in the UK, we have strong and competent regulators in DECC and the Offshore Safety Division of the HSE, who preside over a robust regulatory regime borne out of the recommendations of the Cullen Report. This dynamic, goal setting safety regime has served us well for over twenty years of operations during which time nearly 7,000 wells have been successfully drilled in the UK continental shelf (UKCS)." 

Last month, European countries that are members of OSPAR rejected an Atlantic deepwater offshore drilling ban proposed by Germany, according the media reports. 

The proposal was withdrawn from the OSPAR Commission meeting in Bergen, Norway due to pressure oil-producing countries and OSPAR members Norway, Denmark and Britain. 

A spokesperson for Norway's Environmental Ministry has said that OSPAR will wait until the outcome of reports on the cause of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico before a decision is made on Atlantic deepwater drilling offshore Europe. The Deepwater Horizon accident has prompted Norway and other countries to examine its drilling and safety regulations to prevent a similar incident from happening elsewhere. 
OSPAR is an organization of 15 European governments that cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. 

The 15-member governments are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom.