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Turnaround on offshore safety standards

23 January 2013

MEP's have rejected EU plans to 'toughen' up offshore health and safety regulations, opting for a directive over stricter regulations.

MEP's have rejected EU plans to 'toughen' up offshore health and safety regulations, opting for a directive over stricter regulations.

The European Commission had originally proposed 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.

The enforcement of binding offshore legislation for all member states had been proposed in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the directive voted on by MEP's in the Energy Committee on 9th October will allow greater flexibility than a regulation, laying down the ends but leavings the means to each member state.

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.”

Welcoming the news Malcolm Webb, chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, said: "The result, which comes after the environment committee vote for a directive, is very encouraging...A regulation would do exactly the opposite (of raising offshore safety standards) and weaken the UK's already world-class offshore health and safety regime."

Under the draft directive, oil and gas companies will have to submit major hazard reports and emergency response plans before getting a license 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. Licenses will only be granted if a company can prove it has enough funds to remedy any environmental damage caused.

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 within the European Council and once complete, the European Parliament will put the draft to a plenary vote.