Energy firms will oppose any European bid to tamper with North Sea safety laws.
Oil & Gas UK said last night that Britain already had one of the strongest safety regimes in Europe and the industry body was against any unnecessary new legislation from Brussels.
The organisation’s chief executive issued a statement after the European Commission said tougher safety laws for energy companies operating offshore in Europe could be introduced following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A decision on proposals for EU-wide legislation will be made later this year after yesterday’s talks in Brussels between industry representatives and energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger.
The commission called for reinforced security measures at a meeting in May, when major oil and gas companies were asked by Mr Oettinger to fill out a questionnaire, indicating the measures they were already taking.
Their replies were delivered before yesterday’s follow-up talks, and a commission spokesman said: “The commission is analysing the EU and national legislation and will complete its assessment on this basis. Depending on the results, Commissioner Oettinger will come out with new legislative and policy proposals in autumn.”
Mr Oettinger, who has already called for a temporary ban on new drilling in the North Sea, said: “No regulatory regime alone can give us 100% guarantees of safety. Much depends also on the attitude and practices of operators and on having an operational system available.”
Oil & Gas UK chief executive Malcolm Webb said: “In the UK, we have strong and competent regulators in the Department of Energy and the offshore safety division of the Health and Safety Executive, who preside over a robust regulatory regime borne out of the recommendations of the Cullen report. This safety regime has served us well for over 20 years of operations, during which time nearly 7,000 wells have been successfully drilled on the UK continental shelf.
“The Cullen report was produced following the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster, in which 167 people lost their lives. The goal-setting nature of the regime places the onus firmly on the industry to continually demonstrate to the Health and Safety Executive that the companies are taking measures to minimise the risk of oil and gas releases to as low as reasonably practicable.”
But Mr Webb added that the North Sea industry was not complacent. “The UK’s oil spill prevention and response advisory group is already carrying out a thorough review of UK procedures and practices and will institute any changes necessary either as a result of that review or the findings of the investigations currently ongoing in the US,” he said.
Last night, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers announced the formation of a global industry response group to identify work being done by association member companies and national regulators in response to the gulf accident. Scottish politicians have warned Brussels to keep its hands off the North Sea oil and gas industry.
Angus MP Mike Weir, SNP energy spokesman, said: “This appears to be the EU making a power grab for the oil and gas industry under the guise of safety measures, when they were rebuffed during the last negotiations on the European Treaty.”
Aberdeen North Labour MP Frank Doran said: “The regulation of the UK oil and gas industry is not a matter for the European Union.”