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Oil & Gas UK welcomes vote for EU Directive on offshore safety

23 October 2012

Fears that European plans to toughen up offshore health and safety regulations could actually weaken the regime in the UK have been allayed, after MEPs voted for a watered-down version of the proposals. The EU’s proposals for offshore safety were prompted by the belief that the risk of a major offshore accident in European waters was unacceptably high. 

EP Rapporteur Ivo Belet
EP Rapporteur Ivo Belet

The proposals originally sought to centralise control of offshore health and safety and environmental protection in Europe, which would have overturned the current situation, where each national government is responsible for regulating offshore activities in its own waters. 

On 9 October, MEPs in the Energy Committee voted for a Directive (which lays down the ends, but leaves the means to member states) rather than a stricter Regulation (which would be directly binding on all member states). 

Rapporteur Ivo Belet, who drafted the Committee’s resolution, said: “While a Regulation has the advantage of its direct applicability, questions have been raised about the significant revocation and amendments of existing equivalent national legislation and guidance this might entail. Such redrafting would divert scarce resources from the safety assessments and inspections in the field.”

Under the draft Directive, offshore oil and gas firms would have to submit major-hazard reports and emergency-response plans before receiving a licence to drill. 

Prior to starting operations, drilling companies would be required to submit a special report to their national authorities, describing the drilling installation, potential major hazards, and special arrangements to protect workers. 

Licences would be granted only if the firm could prove it had enough funds to remedy any environmental damage caused. The Directive also imposes a clearer and stronger role for the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) in preventing accidents.

Rapporteur Belet said: “Europe has learnt from the catastrophe with the Deepwater rig in the Gulf of Mexico and wants to limit the environmental and safety risks of offshore oil and gas exploration to a minimum. Especially today, when many member states with no or little experience in oil and gas operations are looking into starting up drilling operations, a solid legislative framework is urgently needed.”

Negotiations will now take place with the European Council, following which the European Parliament will put the draft to a plenary vote.

Welcoming the decision to opt for a Directive rather than a Regulation, Malcolm Webb, Oil & Gas UK’s chief executive, said: “The result, which comes after the Environment Committee vote for a Directive, is very encouraging. 

“We strongly believe this is the best way to achieve the European Commission’s objective of raising offshore safety standards across the EU to the high levels already present in the North Sea. A Regulation would do exactly the opposite and weaken the UK’s already world-class offshore health and safety regime.”

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