EUROPEAN Union plans to take regulatory control of the oil and gas industry could undermine all the health and safety work done in the North Sea since the Piper Alpha disaster, it was claimed yesterday.
MPs heard evidence that the proposed rule changes would cause offshore firms and watchdogs to “take our eye off the ball” for two or three years.
Robert Paterson, health and safety director for industry body Oil and Gas UK, raised the sector’s concerns at a meeting of the Scottish affairs committee in Westminster.
Under draft plans revealed in Brussels last month, the EU would set the regulations governing safety in the North Sea and how the rules were met. They include proposals to make companies prepare detailed major hazard reports outlining how they would tackle emergencies before they are given permission to drill.
Information on all spills would be made available to the public, and licensing laws would be tightened to ensure firms have the technical and financial capability to explore.
The Scottish affairs committee is holding an ongoing inquiry into health and safety issues and asked Oil and Gas UK to give evidence yesterday. Mr Paterson said the industry’s biggest concern was the impact of the EU proposals – and claimed they would “undermine all the good work done in the UK in the years since Piper Alpha”.
He earlier said: “What we fear more than anything are the proposals that came out from the European Union last week, with a view to making some very significant changes to the regulatory framework that we have.
“It will cause us to have to rethink some approaches to safety cases, and it will include more material in safety cases with respect to more environmental information and so on.
“It will take away resources from HSE to carry out reassessments of all those safety cases, take our resources away, and actually not add any real value.”
Labour MP for Dundee West Jim McGovern asked whether the changes would make health and safety more lax in the North Sea.
Mr Paterson said: “I think it will cause the industry and the regulator to take our eye off the ball for two or three years while things settle down. It’s the diversion of attention. The uncertainty that can come from having this interface with two different regimes – the Piper residue and the European regulations, and there isn’t an easy fit there from what we can see at the moment.”