EU Commissioner Suggests Ban of EU Offshore Drilling

European Union (EU) Energy Commission Gunther Oettinger will meet with national regulatory and supervisory authorities, as well as the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers and oil and gas companies, to discuss "concrete steps" in improving operational and regulatory issues surrounding offshore drilling in light of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oettinger last week said that, given the current circumstances, "any responsible government would at present practically freeze new permits for drilling with extreme parameters and conditions. This can mean a de facto moratorium on new drills until the causes of the accident are known and corrective measures are taken for such frontier operations as the ones carried out by the Deepwater Horizon."

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, last week said the Commissioner's comments point to a wholly unjustifiable, knee-jerk reaction to the events in the Gulf of Mexico.

Webb said, "Oil & Gas UK maintains that, in the UK, we have strong and competent regulators in DECC and the Offshore Safety Division of the HSE, who preside over a robust regulatory regime borne out of the recommendations of the Cullen Report. This dynamic, goal setting safety regime has served us well for over twenty years of operations during which time nearly 7,000 wells have been successfully drilled in the UK continental shelf (UKCS).

The Cullen Report was produced following the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster in which 167 people lost their lives.

"Notwithstanding our good track record, this industry is not complacent on these matters and the UK's Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG) in which industry, the regulators and the trade unions are all engaged, is already carrying out a thorough review of UK procedures and practices and will institute any changes seen to be necessary either as a result of that review or the findings of the investigations and inquiries currently ongoing in the United States."

The commissioner is currently examining EU and national legislation, and new legislative and policy proposals governing offshore drilling could come out this fall, the BBC reported.

In May, Oettinger met with 13 member companies of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers and with EU Commissioner of Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Giorgieva to discuss the possibility of a similar oil spill happening in the EU and to seek assurances from producers that they were doing everything they can to ensure safety in drilling operations.

At that meeting, Oettinger asked company representatives to respond to a questionnaire regarding safety policies for offshore oil and gas activity. Results of this questionnaire will be a topic of discussion by the EU environment committee this week, Oettinger said last week.

The decision to allow offshore drilling would ultimately lie with the individual EU member states, Oil & Gas UK noted. "Given that the UK oil and gas industry is the country's biggest industrial investor, pays one fifth of UK corporation tax, provides two thirds of our energy and supports 440,000 jobs, a drilling ban could have significant knock-on effects on the economy," Oil & Gas UK said.