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North Sea checks to double following Gulf spill disaster

Author : Paul Gay

08 June 2010

Environmental inspections of oil and gas rigs operating in British waters will double in the wake of the Mexican Gulf oil spill disaster, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said this week. The explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig last April and the massive pollution it created is set to transform the regulation of deep water drilling and oil recovery worldwide, he suggested.

Chris Huhne: "Every reason to increase our vigilance"
Chris Huhne: "Every reason to increase our vigilance"

The UK Government will increase its inspection of drilling rigs and monitoring of offshore compliance and has asked a new oil industry group to report back on its findings on the UK’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills. A review has been carried out by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) which has found that the UK’s existing inspection system is fit for purpose. However in light of the spill in the Gulf, the regime is being further strengthened.

Secretary of State Chris Huhne commented: “The events unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico are devastating and will be enduring. What we are seeing will transform the regulation of deep water drilling worldwide.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure that the oil and gas industry maintains the highest practices here in UK waters,” the minister added. “I’ve had an urgent review undertaken to reassure myself and the public that all appropriate measures are in place around our shores.

“[Our safety and environmental regulatory regime] is already among the most robust in the world and the industry’s record in the North Sea is strong. For example, we already separate regulation of operations and safety. But the Deepwater Horizon gives us pause for thought and, given the beginning of exploration in deeper waters West of Shetland, there is every reason to increase our vigilance. Initial steps are already under way, including plans to double the number of annual environmental inspections by DECC to drilling rigs and the launch of a new industry group to look at the UK’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills.

“In addition, I will review our new and existing procedures as soon as the detailed analysis of the factors which caused the incident in the Gulf of Mexico are available. This will build upon the work already begun by the newly formed Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group.”

An American campaign group has claimed that a similar incident at one of BP’s deepwater oil fields in UK and Norwegian waters could contaminate the whole of the North Sea. Energy Secretary Huhne said it was his responsibility to make sure the devastating scenes in America were not repeated off the coast of the UK. The Liberal Democrat minister has told DECC to recruit three new inspectors in Aberdeen and double the number of annual environmental inspections from eight to 16.

“The Deepwater Horizon gives us pause for thought and, given the beginning of exploration in deeper waters west of Shetland, there is every reason to increase our vigilance,” Huhne commented.

A Scottish Government spokesman welcomed the announcement by the energy secretary by commenting: “Safety must always be the number one priority, as we have seen from the tragic incident in the Gulf of Mexico, given the cost in human lives and enormous environmental damage.”

The Health and Safety Executive has recently uncovered problems in the North Sea. In April, HSE ordered all North Sea operators to check the pipeline emergency shut-down valves (ESDV) that were made mandatory after Lord Cullen's investigation into the Piper Alpha platform fire. HSE says checks were necessary after the failure of an emergency shut-down valve and that other ESDVs have been found to be at risk of failing in this manner.


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