Members of the European Parliament will be asked to vote on controversial proposals for an immediate ban on deepwater drilling for oil next week.
A resolution calling for a moratorium on all new deep-sea drilling in European waters was backed by the parliament’s environmental committee yesterday, in the wake of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The committee will now appeal to the European Commission and member states to introduce the ban until uniform oil rig safety standards are implemented across the EU.
But the UK industry body last night slammed the move as “wholly unjustified” – while one MEP warned it threatened to destroy Aberdeen’s status as one of the world’s oil capitals.
Oil and Gas UK’s chief executive Malcolm Webb said: “The UK offshore regulatory regime is robust and fit for purpose, controlled by highly technically competent and professional regulators at the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Offshore Safety Division of the HSE.
“The Cullen Report on which our regime is based was produced following the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster in which 167 people lost their lives. The dynamic, goal-setting nature of the regime places the onus firmly on the industry to continually demonstrate to HSE that the companies are taking measures to minimise the risk of oil and gas releases to as low as reasonably practicable.
“The regime also requires an independent and competent person, separate from the drilling line of management, to verify the well design, maintenance and control.”
He added: “This regime has served us well over 20 years of operations during which time nearly 7,000 wells have been successfully drilled in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).”
Scottish Tory MEP Struan Stevenson last night described the call for a moratorium as a “hare-brained over-reaction” which could cost the UK billions.
Any ban would not affect Norway, which has huge North Sea oil interests but is not a member of the EU.
“This reckless act could kill Scotland’s oil and gas industry and destroy Aberdeen’s status as the oil capital of Europe,” he said.
Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon said: “This is a knee-jerk reaction. Safety standards are far higher in the North Sea basin than in the Gulf of Mexico and to introduce a moratorium on new drilling does nothing but harm European interests.
“The UK is the only significant producer of oil in Europe with the fields off the west of Shetland among some of the most promising areas for development. To introduce a blanket ban across Europe will have a disproportionate effect on Scotland.”
Mr Lyon said he would ask Energy Secretary Chris Huhne to make it clear to the commission that a ban on new drilling was not in the interests of Scotland or the UK.
Green MEPs, who pushed for the resolution earlier this year as the scale of the Deepwater Horizon crisis became clear, have welcomed the move, as have Greenpeace.
Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes said the environment committee vote kept up the pressure for a moratorium, and urged the full European Parliament to back it in a vote next Wednesday.
About 10% of EU oil comes from deep-sea drilling operations similar to BP’s Deepwater Horizon. Last year 130 development wells were drilled in the North Sea and 66 have been registered in the first half of 2010, according to government figures.