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October 27, 2011

Safety measures in offshore drilling: the EU misses its chance

BY: Angela Pauly


Oil rigs in the Deepwater Horizon area, USA. © OCEANA / Carlos Suárez.


You know what’s frustrating? When a chance to fix something that is so clearly in need of fixing is passed over. This time around, it has to do with safety in European offshore drilling activities

You’d think after the lessons learned from BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, the European Commission would be doing everything they could to make sure such a disaster never occurs in European waters…and yet today, when EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger presented his long awaited proposal to regulate offshore oil and gas activities in Europe, we learned they didn’t.

This was a well-intentioned proposal, and the Commission did address current legislative gaps, particularly by strengthening authorization processes, emergency preparedness and introducing a “goal-setting approach” by which operators will have to continuously update their practices by taking into account new technologies and risks. Unfortunately, it simply falls short from what we had hoped would come out of this.

So what went wrong you may ask? Here are a few examples:

1)     The proposal ignores financial insurance mechanisms to ensure operators prove their ability to pay for the consequences of an incident (e.g. for emergency intervention, clean-up, remediation, etc.)

2)     Member States will keep primary responsibility for regulating oil platforms, with no European oversight or control. We all know about the conflicts of interest and the cosy relationships between the oil industry and national regulators, so having an EU agency in charge of controlling the controllers would have been the right step

3)     The Commission does not intend to amend the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive to specifically cover the exploration phase of offshore activities. At the moment operators are only required to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) when the amount of oil/gas extracted exceeds a certain quantity per day. Therefore no mandatory assessment is requirement for the majority of exploration activities, nor for research purposes. However the activities that do not reach the production limit set by the Directive, may nevertheless have severe environmental impacts. In fact, the Deepwater Horizon platform was drilling an exploratory well before exploding; and under the current EU legislation, it would probably not have needed to conduct an EIA

4)     The Commission restricts this regulation to operations in EU waters, and does not intend to enforce the same levels of environmental and safety standards for European firms operating abroad. Safety requirements should be uniformly applied anywhere that European firms are operating

If you are interested in the technicalities, you can read up on Oceana´s recommendations on Offshore Drilling in Europe or you can take a look at our Director Xavier Pastor’s Letter to the Editor in the “European Voice” 06/10/2011