MEPs vote for more flexible offshore rules

16th October 2012


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EU plans to overhaul environment and safety regulations for the offshore oil and gas industry will have little impact in the UK

In a vote on the European Commission’s proposals to tighten safety standards across the offshore oil and gas sector, members of the parliament’s energy industry committee rejected imposing new rules through a regulation, which would force all member states to take the same approach, in favour of a new directive giving individual governments more flexibility in how they apply legislation.

Parliamentary rapporteur Ivo Belet, from the European People's Party, confirmed that MEPs had questioned the value of imposing significant changes to existing national legislation in some member states, such as the UK. “Such redrafting would divert scarce resources from the safety assessments and inspections on the field”, he said.

Fiona Hall, Liberal Democrat MEP and European energy spokesperson, said: “The agreed text will ensure that member states who are putting offshore drilling regimes in place for the first time do so to high safety and environmental standards. But those member states, like the UK, that already do have established practices will not have to re-invent the wheel.

“The UK already has a very highly-regarded safety regime and the new EU rules mean that we can keep our own system, but other countries will have to adopt similar safety standards.”
The news was welcomed by Malcolm Webb, chief executive of the industry body Oil & Gas UK: “This is the best way to achieve the commission's objective of raising offshore safety standards across the EU, to the high levels already present in the North Sea. A regulation would do exactly the opposite and weaken the UK’s already world-class offshore health and safety regime.”
While the industry committee’s vote in favour of a directive concurred with that of the environment committee in September, the MEPs refused to back the environment committee’s call for a halt to drilling in the Arctic.

However, the MEPs agree that the new rules should require firms drilling for oil and gas offshore to submit emergency response plans and demonstrate they have the funds to remedy any environmental damage caused by potential spills before being awarded licenses.

“We are following the ‘polluter pays’ principle,” confirmed Hall. “Companies must be held liable for the clean up costs of any potential environmental damage. They must prove that means and mechanisms are in place, for example mutual insurance, from the very start of their operations or be refused a licence to drill.”
The parliament will now enter into negotiations over the final draft text with the European Council.

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