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UK Oil and Gas regime has high standards but can improve

14 December 2011

An independent review commissioned by ministers in March 2011 has acknowledged the strengths of the UK’s offshore oil and gas safety and environmental protection regime, and identified several key ways in which it could be further improved.

Professor Geoffrey Maitland of Imperial College, London
Professor Geoffrey Maitland of Imperial College, London

A panel of experts headed by Professor Geoffrey Maitland of Imperial College, London, also recognised the positive steps taken by industry and regulatory authorities to raise standards in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The review recognised the merits of the UK’s offshore regime for:

  • its stringent assessment of environmental impacts;
  • a safety system that requires industry to identify hazards, assess the risks and follow best practice to manage them; and
  • its comprehensive emergency response framework.

At the same time, the review panel highlighted the importance of continuous improvement and the scope for raising standards through:

  • strengthening mechanisms to assure implementation of safety and environmental management systems;
  • improving the learning culture and processes for spreading best practice;
  • greater integration between the regulatory authorities;
  • a clearer command and control structure in the event of a spill;
  • robust arrangements to ensure operators’ level of liability and ability to pay in the event of a spill; and
  • intensified R&D to develop improved avoidance, capping, containment, clean-up and impact monitoring of major offshore oil spill incidents.

Professor Geoffrey Maitland said:

“We have found a great many positives in the UK’s safety and environmental regulation, in what is generally regarded as a world-leading regime, whilst identifying areas where there is still scope for further reducing the risks of incidents occurring.

“Although it is apparent industry and the regulators strongly subscribe to the need for continuous improvement, it is critical that safety and environmental protection is thoroughly embedded in the culture and ethos of the industry.”

Energy Minister Charles Hendry said:

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster was a tragic reminder of the need for the highest possible standards of safety and environmental control in the oil industry. It is vital for the future of North Sea development that our offshore regulatory regime remains at the forefront of the global industry.

“I am grateful to Professor Maitland and his panel for producing this thorough assessment, which recognises that we have a regime which is already highly regarded by international observers.

“But we must not be complacent and I welcome the review’s constructive suggestions for improvement. I am asking the regulators and industry to consider the panel’s findings in detail and to report back to me by July next year.”

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