Responding to the European Commission’s calls for Member States to consider a suspension of licensing until European offshore safety regimes have been assessed, and for new EU prescribed safety standards, Malcolm Webb, Oil & Gas UK’s chief executive, said:
“Oil & Gas UK is extremely concerned that, once again, the EU Commission is calling for a suspension of new licensing, a measure that is wholly unjustified and inappropriate for the UK offshore oil and gas industry. It is also deeply worrying that in addition, it now proposes to implement centralised and prescriptive safety regulation. In our opinion, this would undermine the advanced and highly sophisticated regulatory regimes currently working so well, for example in the United Kingdom, Norway and the Netherlands, each of these being global exemplars of which Europe should be proud.
“In the UK, we have strong and competent regulators in both the Offshore Safety Division of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) who preside over a robust and fit for purpose regulatory regime. Under this dynamic regime, around 7,000 wells have been successfully drilled over the last twenty years of operations in the UK.
“The Commission says that safety is non-negotiable. We fully agree. Safety is the most important issue for all persons working in the UK oil and gas industry and we never take it lightly. Our lives and livelihoods depend on it. This is why we must respectfully but openly disagree with the Commission’s proposed implementation of a federal, prescriptive approach to safety across the EU. It would run directly counter to the UK approach, which ensures that the risks associated with drilling programmes are considered and reduced to as low as is reasonably practicable on a case by case basis. Any erosion of that system would jeopardise and not improve safety.
“The UK’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG), in which the industry, regulators and trade unions are all working together, is testament to the responsiveness of the safety case regime and the open safety culture which it breeds. OSPRAG was already in operation in the month immediately following the Macondo incident. Its work has so far assured us that UK practices and procedures are robust and fit for purpose but it is also coming forward with recommendations for enhancements. Some of these already have been implemented and more will be coming. This process is likely to be substantially completed before the Commission anticipates coming forward with its new legislative package. This speed of response underlines one of the inherent advantages of the UK’s safety regime. The much slower, legislative approach often delivers its ‘prescriptions’ when they are already out of date.
“Finally, not only is the Commission apparently suggesting prescriptive pan-European regulation, but also, it would seem, it wishes these to be applied on a uniform basis outside the EU. In the Communication issued today, there is a suggestion that companies with headquarters in the EU should be required to follow the envisaged prescriptive standards in all their operations worldwide, failing which, regulators might withdraw operators’ licences or permits. This proposal reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the distinct and complex nature of operations in different oil basins both within Europe and around the world.
“If the Commission has serious concerns about poor practices and procedures in certain parts of the EU, it should declare it and focus its attention on improving standards in those specific areas. In that, we are sure it could rely on the support of the UK oil and gas industry.”