European energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger called for a moratorium on new North Sea drilling yesterday following BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster.
The oil and gas industry claimed there was no justification for such a “knee-jerk reaction” and said the cause of the Deepwater Horizon blowout off the coast of Louisiana had yet to be established.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Oettinger admitted there was scope to improve Europe’s patchwork of legislation and vowed to introduce new laws.
Mr Oettinger urged caution when it came to new drilling operations in European waters.
“Any responsible government would at present practically freeze new permits for drilling with extreme parameters and conditions,” he said. “This can mean, de facto, a moratorium on new drills until the causes of the accident are known and corrective measures are taken for such frontier operations as the ones carried out by the Deepwater Horizon.”
The industry body, Oil & Gas UK, said it was premature to impose a drilling ban.
A spokesman said: “We believe there is no justification for this kind of knee-jerk reaction from the commission, especially as all the details from the Gulf of Mexico incident are not yet fully understood, and we sincerely hope that member states choose to ignore the commissioner’s advice.”
SNP MEP Alyn Smith immediately wrote to Mr Oettinger asking for a meeting with representatives from the Scottish oil and gas sector so that any ideas for a drilling ban would be “kicked into touch”. He said: “Nobody would argue that safety should not come first, but in the North Sea and Scottish industry it already does, and talk of a ban on new developments is wholly disproportionate and unhelpful.”
A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokeswoman said the UK was exercising the “utmost caution” and had conducted an initial review – based not only on the known facts of the BP incident but the possible causes – which had shown that the regulatory system was robust.
Additional environmental inspectors were being recruited to double the number of drilling rig inspections, she added. “Unless we are satisfied that the emergency plans for all wells, and in particular those with extreme parameters, represent the absolute best practice we will not consent to drilling,” the spokeswoman said.
The UK’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group has approved a study to develop new concepts for well capping and containment. Technical review team leader Brian Kinkead said they were confident Britain had an effective regulatory regime but there was no room for complacency.