In October 2010, the European Commission published a Communication entitled “Facing the challenge of the safety of offshore oil and gas activities”. The communication followed an urgent safety assessment of oil and gas exploration and production activities in European Waters following the Deepwater Horizon accident in May 2010.

The Communication highlights that oil and gas operations in Europe are largely determined by the national legislation of each member state. Accordingly, the licensing, operational safety and environmental regimes can vary dramatically. The Commission believes that this complicates the management of health, safety and environmental risks and risks hampering incident response. The Commission’s proposal is that a single legislative regime for offshore oil and gas activities throughout Europe be produced.

The Commission argues that it is crucial that licensing procedures across Europe conform to certain basic common criteria because major oil spills are not limited to the boundaries of individual states. It has suggested a number of key requirements for the licensing of hydrocarbon exploration and production that it proposes should be defi ned at EU level. These include:

  • Presentation of a full ‘safety case’ and associated health and safety documentation for each operation.
  • Demonstration of the technical capacity of prospective operators to take appropriate measures to prevent and respond to critical events.
  • Financial capability to handle the consequences of unforeseen events. 8 | Health and Safety Newsletter: February 2011

The Commission recognises that as member states transpose minimum requirements from health and safety directives into national legislation, variations will occur. It states that requirements applicable to industry must be designed according to uniform criteria. One of the Commission’s proposals is to extend the scope of EU product liability legislation to cover mobile offshore drilling rigs (MODUs), which are currently not included in the legislation. The Commission has also stated an intention to assess current regulations for well design and control in light of the lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon incident.

The Commission indicated its intention to work with member states to provide a framework for independent evaluation of the performance of national regulators (e.g. DECC) in order to ensure that common standards are being applied across Europe.

The Commission sees the EU as well placed to take a key role in international efforts to strengthen health & safety rules globally and plans to work with existing international partners to initiate an EU-driven global initiative for offshore safety.

It will be interesting to observe how far the Commission’s proposals make it through the EU legislative process. It is understood that the Commission aims to put a formal proposal together before summer 2011.

The UK, which is renowned for its high standards in offshore health and safety, has already indicated that it will not be supporting the Commission’s proposals. Oil and Gas UK’s Chief Executive, Malcolm Webb, has strongly criticised the proposals, stating that “Safety is the most important issue for all persons working 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”.