MEPs call for safer oil rig standards
Euro-MPs have called for tougher oil rig safety standards in Europe and job protection for industry whistleblowers prepared to speak up about possible breaches of the rules.
A 602-64 vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg also called for new responsibility on oil and gas rig operators to cover the cost of any spills.
The calls come in the wake of last year's Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and ahead of European Commission proposals due soon for the first EU-wide laws on oil platform safety and standards.
Today's European Parliament report, drawn up by Tory MEP Vicky Ford, and given cross-party backing, says that in the EU and Norway more than 90% of oil and 60% of gas production comes from off-shore operations, mostly in the North Sea and Norwegian Sea. There are 486 off-shore installations in the UK alone.
Her report rejects the idea of a pan-European regulator, calling instead for "site-specific" measures best suited to individual operations.
Ms Ford said: "We are learning the lessons of the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Every platform and rig has specific circumstances, so regulators and operators must work together to develop a safety plan specific to that site.
"A one-size-fits-all tick box approach was one of the contributing factors to the Gulf of Mexico disaster; it would be dangerous for the EU to go this way."
She went on: "There has been a suggestion that the EU should have a moratorium on exploration until new legislation is put in place, and a new EU-wide regulator.
"I believe neither is workable. It is clear that (EU) standards, equipment and regulation are in many cases already much stronger than in the Gulf of Mexico. Also a moratorium now could cause serious damage to our economic growth.
"Instead of a super regulator we should encourage and build on recent developments that bring together national regulators, allowing them to co-operate better in spreading best practice as well as enabling EU neighbours to be included."
The report says operators should be responsible for paying the cost of cleaning up any accident, and urges the creation of an official log of all private and public emergency clean-up equipment to speed deployment in the event of a spill.
Ms Ford emphasised that standards in the European industry are already high but added: "We can never be complacent and we should take the opportunity to improve our own procedures, and to put in place mechanisms that enable us to better co-operate and learn from each other."
MEPs backed amendments to the report by Labour MEP Peter Skinner calling for protection for industry whistleblowers.
"If we are to prevent lethal accidents and disastrous oil spills, workers on rigs must be able to speak out if they have concerns," said Mr Skinner.
"But people are often worried that if they raise their worries about lapses of safety, they will be put under pressure and could even lose their job."
Offshore oil and gas workers should be able to elect safety representatives able to ask questions and speak out without fear of harassment - an idea Mr Skinner said was already supported by trade unions representing workers in the offshore sector.
The leader of the UK Liberal Democrat MEPs in Strasbourg, Fiona Hall, said the UK's safety record was an example others could follow in stepping up European standards.
"It is very important that tightening the rules is done in an effective way, building on established best practice in some member states, in particular the UK's safety case approach, and a strictly enforced safety culture," she said.
"Pressure must be brought to bear on all member states to implement and enforce any new safety regime and on companies to live up to their corporate responsibility and commit to a true safety culture within their organisations."
A Commission consultation paper last October suggested tighter controls on granting drilling permits, independent supervision of oil platforms and new technical criteria for safety controls.
The report said that "although safety standards in the EU industry are generally high, the rules often vary from company to company, and legislation differs from one member state to another".
Some safety issues on oil platforms come under existing EU rules but "the analysis showed that an overhaul and a more coherent legal framework are needed if the highest safety standards are to be assured."
The Commission's formal proposals are expected before the end of the year.
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