Prime Minister David Cameron is on a collision course with the EU over its plans to seize regulatory control of the North Sea oil and gas industry.
Mr Cameron made reference to the Piper Alpha disaster as he vowed to protect what he called the “absolutely world-leading” offshore safety regime in the UK.
He was quizzed on the issue by north-east MP Sir Robert Smith – who warned that regulations were being “threatened” by the proposals in Brussels.
EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said in October that a new regime was needed because the likelihood of a major offshore accident remained “unacceptably high”.
Industry body Oil & Gas UK claimed in evidence to a committee of MPs in November that the plans would “undermine all the good work done in the years since Piper Alpha”.
The organisation fears safety could be jeopardised if firms and regulators’ resources were tied-up unnecessarily while reworking complex safety plans, with the proposals designed to bring other states in line with the North Sea standard.
Sir Robert, Liberal Democrat MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, raised the fears at prime minister’s questions, and urged Mr Cameron to help fight the plans.
He said: “Following the death of 167 workers in the Piper Alpha disaster, this country developed a world-leading safety regime for offshore oil and gas, which is now threatened by regulations from the European Union.
“Will he (Mr Cameron) use his best endeavours to back his department of energy in persuading the rest of the EU that what we need is not regulation but a directive which can be implemented flexibly?”
Mr Cameron said Sir Robert had raised a “very important point”.
“I well remember the disaster and the huge suffering and loss of life that caused,” he added.
“Since that day we have put in place an absolutely world-leading system of regulation. I will do everything I can to support the climate-change secretary to make sure that we get a result that means we can go on with the right regulations for the North Sea.”
The proposals will be discussed in the European Parliament later this year and, if agreed by a majority of states, the changes would come into force in 2013.