UK Increases North Sea Oil Rig Safety Inspections

LONDON (Dow Jones Newswires), Jan. 11, 2011

The U.K. government said Tuesday it will further increase the number of inspections it makes to oil and gas rigs operating in the North Sea and broaden their scope to include more kinds of facilities.

Last week a Parliamentary inquiry raised serious doubts about the safety of deep-water drilling operations in the North Sea, following BP's blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

Inspectors from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, or DECC, will now visit 150 offshore facilities every year, up from 60 inspections before the Gulf spill, and will expand their oversight to fixed oil-production platforms as well as mobile drilling rigs, the department said in a statement.

"The U.K.'s safety and environmental regime is one of the most robust in the world, but we are not complacent and more environmental inspections should provide further assurance that government and industry are alert and working hard to ensure that a spill like [the Gulf of Mexico] doesn't happen in U.K. waters," said Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne in a statement.

This is an expansion of the plan announced by the department in June to raise the number of rig inspections to 120, but to focus on drilling rigs rather than fixed platforms.

DECC inspectors will focus on the environmental integrity of the facilities, said a spokeswoman for the department. There will be some overlap with inspections carried out by the U.K. Health and Safety Executive, which also look at environmental issues but have a greater focus on the safety of workers aboard facilities, she said.

The U.K. Parliament's Energy and Climate Change Select Committee last week raised serious doubts about whether the oil industry is prepared to tackle an oil spill similar to the Deepwater Horizon blowout should it occur in the North Sea.

The committee called on the government and regulators to compel companies to improve their spill response plans, install extra fail-safe equipment on rigs, and increase financial provisions for spill costs, but agreed with the government that a moratorium on deep water drilling wasn't needed.

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