THE UK Government has “serious concerns” about the impact of European Union plans to seize regulatory control of the North Sea oil and gas industry.
Energy Minister Charles Hendry raised fears about the “practical effect” of the changes before attending talks on the proposals in Brussels tomorrow.
EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said last month a new safety regime is needed because the likelihood of a major offshore accident remained “unacceptably high” after BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster last year.
Industry body Oil and Gas UK claimed in evidence to MPs at Westminster this month that the plans would “undermine all the good work done in the UK in the years since Piper Alpha”.
The group fears safety could be jeopardised as firms and regulators’ resources are tied up reworking safety plans without any benefit.
The European Commission will present its proposal for a new regulation on the safety of the offshore industry at a meeting of the EU Energy Council.
Speaking in advance of tomorrow’s meeting, Mr Hendry said: “The UK welcomes the fact that many of the requirements in the proposed regulation appear to mirror key elements of the UK’s offshore safety regime, although we have serious concerns over the practical effect of a regulation on the administration of our current regime.”
The draft proposals include making 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.
Labour’s shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex said: “The British oil and gas industry has some of the highest health and safety standards in Europe, and indeed the world.
“I am aware of the genuine concerns of many in the North Sea oil and gas industry that EU proposals must not do anything to undermine these standards.
“It is worrying that the route the commission proposes to go down potentially does undermine these standards.
“It is important to improve standards elsewhere in Europe. But this must not put at risk the health and safety of workers in the North Sea.”
The plans will go before the European Parliament next year.If the regulation is rubber-stamped by the majority, it will come into force in 2013 and operators will be asked to pay £114million a year to fund the changes.