The Offshore Safety Directive (“OSD”) provides for a single competent authority to deal with both environmental and safety issues. The OSD also requires the joint environmental and safety regulator to be independent of the body dealing with economic development of offshore resources and licensing.

The current UK regulatory structure does not comply with the OSD. Separate entities regulate environmental issues (DECC) and safety issues (HSE); and the same entity (DECC) performs the role of both environmental and economic regulator. Some non-structural changes have already been made as a result of recommendations in the Maitland review, with the HSE and DECC working together to improve effectiveness under a new Memorandum of Understanding. However, further changes will be needed as the OSD contains legal requirements, not just recommendations.

Rather than overhaul the existing machinery of Government to establish a “new” competent authority, the HSE and DECC have made clear in stakeholder meetings that they propose to create an “umbrella” competent authority, consisting of the relevant parts of DECC and HSE. This would be similar to the onshore COMAH regime where the Environment Agency and HSE work together as the competent authority for major hazard sites. The proposed competent authority has been described by one optimistic commentator as a swan gliding gracefully over the waters of offshore environmental and safety regulation, with the HSE and DECC paddling diligently underneath. We will have to wait and see how the swan fares on the choppy waters of the North Sea.

Joking aside, the idea of a joint HSE/DECC competent authority does seem to be a sensible and practical solution to the OSD requirements. To overhaul the machinery of Government to produce a new separate health, safety and environmental regulator for offshore activities would be difficult given the existing regulatory structure. There is a question mark, however, over whether the proposed competent authority will be strictly compliant with the terms of the OSD.