The European Parliamentary Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety convened on 19 September 2012 to consider amendments to the European Commission’s proposed regulation on the safety of offshore oil and gas prospection, exploration and production activities. Amongst other things, the Committee considered an amendment that would transform the regulation into a directive, which would give members states much more flexibility in implementing the proposals.

The proposed regulation has caused upset to industry operators in the North Sea, who claim that it will cost the industry and member states significant sums of money to implement and may damage, rather than improve, safety performance. Furthermore, many are of the view that the changes are unjustified and unnecessary for the North Sea – where around 90% of Europe’s offshore production lies – given its existing, mature, safety regimes.

The UK and Scottish Governments and Oil & Gas UK, the industry trade association, are all opposed to the regulation and in favour of it being transformed into a directive. A directive would have little effect on North Sea safety regimes but may raise standards elsewhere in Europe, such as the Mediterranean, which is a key purpose of the proposal.

On 19 September 2012, the amendment to transform regulation into a directive was narrowly passed by the committee, though the proposal still faces further legislative hurdles. In any case, the news will be welcomed by North Sea operators as a sign that Europe is listening to their views.