New laws to protect Europe from oil spills must be toughened up, not watered down

Press Release Date: July 4, 2012

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

Even with the Commission’s proposed regulation on offshore safety, the risks of oil or gas accidents in European waters would remain unacceptably high. The proposal needs strengthening, not watering down.

Deepwater Horizon spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 and local communities are still suffering the consequences. The European Commission’s response to this tragedy was a new regulation on safety of offshore oil and gas operations, proposed in October 2011. As this proposal is debated in Council and Parliament, with committee hearings 9-12 July, our group of NGOs is calling on EU leaders and MEPs to give the proposal their strongest support – and go further in ensuring Europe does everything possible to avoid becoming the next Gulf of Mexico.

According to Frederic Hauge, President of Bellona: “The proposal would bring about improved safety and environmental protection across Europe, but some fundamental elements are missing. We have a unique opportunity here to get the future right for this inherently risky industry, and protect workers, oceans and coasts.”

Oceana, Bellona, Seas at Risk, and ClientEarth believe the new law needs to be strengthened by including:

  • Improved governance with more supervision at the EU level to ensure safety rules are complied with and sufficiently enforced across European waters. The European Maritime Safety Agency could be given new powers to do this in a cost effective, independent and transparent way.
  • Financial security systems to guarantee operators can pay the costs if they cause pollution – so taxpayers, local communities, and small businesses do not end up footing the bill.
  • Special requirements for remote and sensitive environments like the Arctic, where extreme conditions make the risk of accidents higher – and the chances of cleaning up afterwards unacceptably low.

We fully support the Commission’s choice to introduce the new measures through an EU Regulation, rather than a Directive, recognizing the profoundly different consequences of the two. A Regulation ensures direct application of minimum standards across the whole of the EU, whereas a Directive has to be transposed into national law, entailing lengthy delays and administrative burden. Ultimately, the risk of poor quality, inconsistent implementation of a Directive could lead to real inaction by some countries.

The merit of the proposal is coherence of safety requirements in Europe, so that operators drilling from the North Sea to the Mediterranean Sea respect the same high standards” said Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe, “Only a Regulation could effectively achieve this desired objective, which would benefit industry, citizens, and the environment.

Some Member States driven by industry, like the UK, are trying to water the proposal down to a Directive to minimize the change required at home.  But the need for action is clear. Even the UK, considered having one of the best offshore safety regimes in the world, has a far from unblemished safety record – with more than 100 “potentially lethal” incidents reported in 2009-10.  

“Euro-sceptic Member States and the regulation-loathing oil and gas industry are trying to prevent a suitable EU response to high risk offshore drilling. Member States and MEPs who want to properly protect European waters must now support and strengthen the Commission proposal for regulation.” Said Monica Verbeek, Executive Director of Seas At Risk



1)    To read the position paper of the NGOs:

2)    NGO letter to Commissioner Oettinger to support the regulation: