On 6 January 2011, the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee published a report entitled “UK Deepwater Drilling – Implications of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill”. The report comes almost six months after an inquiry was set up to examine a range of issues following the Gulf of Mexico incident in April last year which resulted in the death of 11 workers and a major oil spill.

The call by European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger for a moratorium on deepwater drilling was one of the issues that the Committee examined. The Committee concluded that there should not be a moratorium on offshore drilling in the UK Continental Shelf. Amongst other things, the Committee reported that such a moratorium would cause drilling rigs and expertise to migrate to other parts of the world and harm the UK’s security of supply.

The Committee did express “serious doubts” about the ability of oil spill response equipment to function in the harsh environment of the open Atlantic west of Shetland. The Report recommends that the Government ensure that any capping, containment and clean-up systems are designed to take full account of the environmental challenges in that area. A number of other signifi cant recommendations were made in the Report, including:

 Minimum safety standards

The report recommends that the Government should adopt minimum prescriptive safety standards for failsafe devices and consider specifi cally whether blowout preventers on the UK Continental Shelf should be equipped with two “blind shear rams” (the device which failed on the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico spill), rather than one.

Emergency response

The report recognises that it is essential that there is someone offshore who has the authority to bring a halt to drilling operations at any time, without recourse to onshore management. It recommends that the Government should seek assurances from industry that the prime duty of the people with whom this responsibility rests is the safety of personnel and the protection of the environment.

Liability

The report also recommends that the licensing process should require that prospective licensees prove their ability to pay for the consequences of any incident that might occur.

The Committee rejected calls for increased regulatory oversight by the EU and recommended that “EU countries without a North Sea coastline should not be involved with discussions on regulation of the offshore industry on the UK Continental Shelf”. However, the Committee was receptive to EU involvement in a different context, calling for the Government to work with the EU to ensure a new directive is drawn up that follows the ‘polluter pays’ principle and unambiguously identifi es who is responsible for the remediation of any environmental damage.

It will be interesting to observe the extent and pace to which the Committee’s recommendations are implemented by the Government and the Health and Safety Executive. It is expected that the Government will be keen to act quickly upon any recommendations aimed at improving the UK’s existing high safety standards. DECC has already announced that it will be increasing the number of annual inspections carried out on offshore installations.

To view the full Committee’s full report, please go to: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmerergy/450/450i.pdf