Oceana: EU agency desperately needed to supervise offshore oil and gas activities

Commission proposal for the regulation of offshore activities disregards calls from civil society and Parliament; fails to deliver adequate governance framework.

Press Release Date: October 27, 2011

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

EU Energy Commissioner, Günther Oettinger, today presented the long-awaited Commission proposal to regulate offshore oil and gas activities in Europe – a reaction to BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, which spilled massive amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Oceana welcomes the intent of the proposed regulation to 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. However Oceana is concerned that this regulation nevertheless falls short of civil society expectations on governance, as it fails to empower the EU to make sure rules are uniformly applied across all European regions.

“We cannot miss such an opportunity to comprehensively regulate current and future offshore developments in Europe. The proposal doesn’t provide the appropriate means to carry out its ambition of establishing a strong European safety culture in offshore operations,” stated Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe. “Responsibility for regulating offshore platforms will remain with member states, and yet recent incident reports in the North Sea, highlighting the withholding of information, maintenance failures and safety violations, demonstrate the need for supranational oversight”.

Surprisingly the Commission’s proposal also disregards the recent position of the European Parliament calling for a broader involvement of the European Safety Maritime Agency (EMSA) with regards to third party verification of procedures and inspections regimes. Oceana recognizes the role of EMSA and strongly calls for its experience to be used to facilitate EU implementation of high safety standards in offshore activities. This would ultimately reduce risks for European citizens, while generating important economies of scale and increasing transparency in the sector.

Oceana is also alarmed that the proposed regulation 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.). This was one of the major lessons from the BP disaster. It is essential that an uncapped compulsory insurance requirement be integrated into EU law to ensure the full financial liability of operators.

“The Commission has taken a rather loose position that may allow “business-as-usual” to continue,” added Nicolas Fournier, Coordinator of Oceana’s Brussels office. Prevention must be reinforced with more stringent EU controls, especially at a time when oil exploration is moving towards new frontiers, such as in the Arctic region, where industry standards are clearly inapplicable and response, rescue, and clean-up capabilities virtually non-existent.”

In addition Oceana regrets that the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive will not be amended 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. It is worth remembering that the Deepwater Horizon platform was drilling an exploratory well at the Macondo prospect before exploding; and under the current EU legislation, it would probably not have needed to conduct an EIA.

Finally Oceana deeply deplores that the Commission only 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. It seems that the requirement for the industry to apply uniform practices wherever they operate, which was initially envisaged by the Commission and further reiterated by the European Parliament, has been taken off the table.

Oceana´s recommendations on Offshore Drilling in Europe

Xavier Pastor’s Letter to the Editor in the “European Voice” 06/10/2011

Oceana & other conservation groups’ letter to Commissioner Oettinger 01/09/2011