As reported in our previous two newsletters (March 2012 and August 2012) the issue of offshore safety in Europe remains a prominent issue for the oil and gas industry. In October 2011 the European Commission proposed that it would introduce a Regulation on the safety of offshore oil and gas prospection, exploration and production activities. The submission was met by much resistance from the industry association, Oil & Gas UK, as well as both the UK and Scottish Governments. They argue that it will cost the industry and member states signifi cant sums of money to implement and may damage, rather than improve, safety performance.

The current developments see positive progression in relation to this controversial proposal. In two recent committee votes at the European Parliament an amendment has been considered that would transform the legislation from a European Regulation to a European Directive. The fi rst vote took place on 19 September 2012 at a meeting of the European Parliamentary Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. The amendment to transform the regulation was passed. On 9 October 2012 the same proposal went before the Industry, Research and Energy Committee of the European Parliament. The Committee also voted in favour of the proposal.

A Regulation on offshore health and safety would have created a centralised European safety regime which would form part of domestic law in all EU member states. By comparison, a Directive would allow member states much more fl exibility in implementation and would likely have little impact upon UK safety regulations, which are already considered to be at the highest end of the ‘safety spectrum’ in Europe. The effect of a Directive would target countries where the standard is not currently fi t-for-purpose and bring them into line with the current practices in the North Sea.

The vote has been welcomed by Oil & Gas UK. Malcolm Webb, Oil & Gas UK’s Chief Executive stated that the result was ‘very encouraging’.

He continued, ‘We strongly believe this is the best way to achieve the European Commission’s objective of raising offshore safety standards across the EU, to the high levels already present in the North Sea...We trust that the European Parliament, Council and Commission will now look to work constructively together towards a well-worded directive as the best way forward.’

Scottish MEP Alyn Smith said, ‘The adoption of the amendment is proof that the engagement strategy with workers and the industry has borne fruit. We all share the same concerns, and we are all committed to ensuring the highest health and safety and environmental standards possible.’

Negotiations will now take place with the European Council, before it goes to a plenary vote which is expected to take place in early December.