An EU bid to take control of offshore safety regulations “could be like a ticking time bomb”, it was claimed today.
Paul Stockley, joint head of oil and gas at law firm Bond Pearce, said: “To wrestle control of safety regulation from the UK, a world leader with unparalleled experience and place it in the hands of the EU, in which only a handful of member states have any oil and gas history and experience, could be like setting a ticking time bomb”.
He was speaking at the launch of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce’s twice-yearly oil and gas survey, which has been supported by Bond Pearce.
Carried out mostly before the 2012 Budget, it found firms were concerned about infrastructure constraints in Aberdeen – especially air and road links – and a third thought they would be affected by Scottish independence.
Overall business optimism was good in the UK but better overseas, firms were struggling to recruit people with the right skills and access to and funding capital had improved since 2008 but was still an issue.
Mr Stockley said: “The survey gives cause for optimism, with the oil and gas sector continuing to outperform the rest of the Scottish economy and increased activity planned.
“Optimism amongst operators and contractors is continuing to recover within the UKCS, confidence in international markets is even higher and, at least, the 2012 Budget has signalled stronger support to the industry than last year’s damaging fiscal measures.
“However, the survey also highlighted significant concerns within the industry and at the possibility of the European Commission taking over regulation of offshore oil and gas safety.
“The UK has moved away from prescriptive safety regimes because assessing risks and managing them is significantly more effective.
“The Commission’s proposals are a step back in time to a less-effective system and represent an unnecessary distraction from the real and continuing efforts in the UK to make the oil and gas industry safer.
He added: “The skills shortage remains an issue of concern to the industry. Whilst companies may be full of good intentions and express the wish to bring in new people, they continue to poach from each other in what has become a swirling pool of labour.
“Graduate recruitment is not the problem, but developing and sustaining industry experience requires resources to be focused on bringing people through, providing the right training and perhaps attracting people with the appropriate skills from other sectors rather than simply recycling the same staff among each other.
“On a more positive note, there does appear to be increasing merger and acquisition, farm-in and other transactional activity in the North Sea.
“We envisage more consolidation in the North Sea sector and are certainly seeing this with our clients.
“Overall, our sense is that the industry outlook is considerably brighter than it was at this time last year.”