Member states and MEPs struck a deal today (21 February) on new safety regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction in EU waters. The new legislation was first proposed by the European Commission after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The directive opens a new area of competence for the EU, as previously member states were free to set their own standards for issuing drilling permits. Under the new rules offshore drilling will remain a national competence, but member states must demand specific information from companies wishing to drill in their waters. It will not give the EU supervisory control over offshore drilling, as called for by campaigners.
The new rules will require oil and gas firms to submit major hazard reports and emergency response plans before they are given a license to drill. They also must demonstrate financial and technical ability to remedy any damage caused by a spill. It firmly establishes that liability for a spill rests with the oil or gas firm.
The directive also requires member states to prepare emergency response plans for all offshore drilling installations within their jurisdiction. The Commission had originally proposed a regulation, but MEPs and member states changed the form to a directive, which must be implemented by member states, in order to avoid redrafting existing national laws on drilling that are equivalent. Governments have two years to transpose the directive.
Belgian centre-right MEP Ivo Belet, who led negotiations for the Parliament, said the new rules were badly needed. “Now that several member states are exploring new drilling operations, we need an efficient legislative framework,” he said.
Reaction from environmentalists was mixed. Greenpeace welcomed the fact that the new law could limit or even prevent oil drilling under harsh conditions, such as those in the Arctic, where cleaning up an oil spill is impossible. But they regretted that it is not stronger.
Campaign group Oceana said the agreement represents a missed opportunity because the Commission’s original proposal was watered down. “It is outrageous that Member States would adopt a weakened legislation that allows business-as-usual for the powerful oil industry at the expense of EU cit
izens, public health and the environment,” said Oceana executive director Xavier Pastor. He said the fact that the new law does not increase EU supervision through the European Maritime and Safety Agency means there is still a risk of accidents.
Vicky Ford, a British MEP from the ECR group, welcomed the fact that MEPs and member states removed more stringent aspects of the Commission’s proposal. She said the initial proposal would have denied member states the required flexibility to adapt measures to their own national circumstances.
“We were facing an attempt to ‘Europeanise’ national offshore competences by forcing member states to repeal key parts of their domestic law and replace them with a one-size-fits-all piece of EU legislation,” she said. “It would have forced the UK oil and gas industry to divert resources to these changes. That would have caused serious project delays and dealt a blow to the economy, investment, jobs and energy security.”