OGP Forms Group to Study Offshore Drilling, Safety Procedures

The International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (OGP) has formed a Global Industry Response Group to identify questions raised by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in regards to offshore drilling safety and procedures.

OGP Executive Director Michael Engell-Jensen announced the group's formation at a meeting with the European Commission in Brussels on July 14. European Union (EU) Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, who wants to freeze new offshore drilling permits for EU member states until the cause of the BP oil spill is determined, called for the meeting with OGP, oil and gas companies and regulatory authorities to discuss ways to improve drilling operational and safety issues in light of the oil spill.

Under OGP leadership, the group, comprised of OGP member companies, European regulatory agencies and other stakeholders, will review offshore operating procedures and equipment, audit inspections, oil spill liabilities, financial provisions, and potential changes to regulations and legislations. Particular emphasis will be on subsea well control, oil well containment and major oil spill cleanup techniques.

Once results of the official investigation are available, the Group will quickly consolidate and disseminate lessons learned throughout OGP's membership and beyond. The Group could also become involved in overseeing research projects that may be prompted by the Gulf of Mexico findings.

Engel-Jensen said, "In the aftermath of 11 lives lost, 17 people injured, continuing damage to the environment and disruption to people's livelihoods, our objective must be to incorporate lessons learned from the Gulf incident into risk management policies
here in Europe and wherever the oil & gas exploration and production industry works."

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."

The commissioner also has proposed stricter regulations on exploratory drilling permits reviews of current safety procedures, and requiring operators show they are financially capable of dealing with potential oil spills.

Industry trade group Oil & Gas UK this week reiterated its concern that Oettinger's call for a moratorium on new drilling offshore Europe is a "unjustifiable, knee-jerk" reaction to the oil spill.

The UK's safety regime is more advanced than that applying in the U.S., and is already controlled by highly technical and professional regulators, said Malcolm Webb, chief executive of Oil & Gas UK.

"The idea that the EU Commission should be seeking to control the affairs of the UK Offshore Safety Division quite frankly concerns me. Furthermore, given that the cause of the incident in the US is still unclear, the rush to judgment and the suggestion of a moratorium on drilling in UK waters is, in my view, wholly unwarranted."

Webb noted that 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.