Offshore oil operators were accused last night of deliberately delaying maintenance operations to produce as much oil as possible to exploit sky-high world prices.
The claim by Gordon Liberal Democrat MP Malcolm Bruce sparked a furious row with oil industry bosses following a Commons debate on the 20th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster.
Mr Bruce made the allegation minutes before Work and Pensions Minister Anne McGuire, Labour MP for Stirling, announced the UK Government had asked the Health and Safety Executive to review the industry’s progress tackling the issues raised in a safety report and report back next April.
Ms McGuire said there were “worrying messages” in what is known as the “KP3” report on the safety and integrity of offshore installations and their equipment.
The minister said she had pressed the industry at the last meeting of the joint industry, government and union organisation Pilot to “raise its game”, particularly over asset integrity and the need for a lead on safety.
Mr Bruce said he had been told of concerns “that at the current high price of oil some routine maintenance programmes and shutdowns are being delayed or postponed in order to maximise production at the top price”.
Chris Allen, health and safety and environment director of industry group Oil and Gas UK, issued an immediate denial.
But Aberdeen North Labour MP Frank Doran said in the debate that Mr Bruce was “absolutely right”.
Graham Tran, northern organiser of the Amicus wing of the union Unite, said such practice was “the norm in the oil and gas industry”.
Jake Molloy, of the Offshore Oil Liaison Committee union, said if the claims were true they would have “major implications” for safety.
Mr Allen said: “We cannot agree with the comments made by Malcolm Bruce that routine maintenance on our offshore platforms is being delayed and safety is being overlooked.”
Mr Bruce said later he had been approached by a maintenance contractor complaining work had dried up because operators were more interested in extracting as much oil as possible while the price remains high.
Meanwhile, documentary film producer and disaster survivor Ed Punchard, launched a proposal for a memorial scholarship scheme making grants to 167 graduates carrying out research into offshore safety in the name of each of the victims.