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Outlines of European offshore oil and gas safety directive agreed

01 April 2013

A political agreement has been reached between the European Parliament and the Council on the European Commission's proposal for legislation on the safety of oil and gas operations in the European Union (EU).

Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Energy
Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Energy

Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for Energy said: "I welcome this major step enhancing the safety of offshore oil and gas production in the EU. Past accidents have shown the devastating consequences when things go badly wrong offshore. Recent 'near-misses' in EU waters reminded us of the need for a stringent safety regime. These rules will make sure that the highest safety standards already mostly in place in some Member States will be followed at every oil and gas platform across Europe."

In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 the Commission reviewed the existing Member States' safety frameworks for offshore operations and proposed new legislation to guarantee that world's highest safety, health and environmental standards apply everywhere in the EU.

The main elements of the agreed directive are the following:

Licensing. The Directive introduces clear rules for the prevention and response to a major incident. The licensing authority in the Member States will be required to ensure that only operators with proven technical and financial capacities are allowed to explore for, and produce oil and gas in EU waters. 

Independent national competent authorities responsible for the safety of installations will verify the provisions for safety, environmental protection and emergency preparedness of rigs and platforms and the operations conducted on them. If companies do not respect the minimum standards, Member States will take enforcement actions and/or impose penalties; ultimately, operators will have to stop the drilling or production operations.

Obligatory emergency planning. Companies will have to prepare a report on major hazards for their installations, containing an individual risk assessment and risk control measures and an emergency response plan before exploration or production begins. These plans will need to be submitted to national authorities who will give a go-ahead.

Independent verification. Technical solutions presented by the operator need to be verified by an independent verifier prior to and periodically after the installation is taken into operation.

Transparency. Comparable information will be made available about the standards of performance of the industry and the activities of the national competent authorities. This will be published on their websites. The confidentiality of whistle-blowers will be protected. Operators registered in Member States will be requested to submit reports of major accidents in which they have been involved overseas to enable key safety lessons to be studied.

Emergency Response. Companies will prepare emergency response plans based on their rig or platform risk assessments and keep resources at hand to put them into operation when necessary. Member States will likewise take full account of these plans when they compile national emergency plans, which will be periodically tested by the industry and national authorities.

Liabilities. Oil and gas companies will be fully liable for environmental damages caused to the protected marine species and natural habitats. For damage to waters, the geographical zone will be extended to cover all EU marine waters including the exclusive economic zone (about 370 km from the coast) and the continental shelf where the coastal Member State exercises jurisdiction. For water damage, the present EU legal framework for environmental liability is restricted to territorial waters (about 22 km offshore).

EU Offshore Authorities Group. Offshore inspectors of Member States will work together to ensure effective sharing of best practices and contribute to improving safety standards.
International. The Commission will work with its international partners to promote the implementation of the highest safety standards across the world. Operators working in the EU will be expected to demonstrate they apply the same policies for preventing major accidents overseas as they apply in their EU operations.

The measure goes before an EU energy committee for a vote next month.

Commenting on the agreement, Robert Paterson, Oil & Gas UK’s health, safety and employment director, said: “Oil & Gas UK has worked tirelessly to highlight the very real damage that an EU Regulation could have done to workers’ safety. The Commission’s decision today to establish a Directive on offshore safety is the best way to achieve the objective of raising standards across the EU to the high levels already present in the North Sea. The UK oil and gas industry looks forward to working closely with the Commission to help disseminate North Sea experience and good practice across Europe by ensuring the Directive is appropriately worded.”

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