The European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) has voted in favour of a report on offshore oil and gas activities that aims to update safety rules and close loopholes in current legislation. ITRE’s action is in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 and is designed to be the European Parliament’s response to a Commission consultation paper issued in October 2010.

ITRE recommend that the highest safety standards are uniformly upheld throughout European waters. The report recommends that to achieve this, an approach based on the UK’s safety case regime should be adopted. To achieve this aim, ITRE have emphasised that a single piece of EU legislation risks destabilising the current network of Member State regimes, which could move them away from the proven safety case approach. This should provide some comfort to the UK’s oil and gas industry as the Commission had previously suggested adopting a single piece of legislation for every Member State. Furthermore, the report states the desire that EU-based companies should employ the same safety approach globally irrespective of project location. However, ITRE recognise the difficulty that this could pose in relation to the enforceability of EU-standards globally.

The decision to use the UK’s safety case approach builds upon the recommendation of the US National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, which advocated the adoption of an approach similar to the North Sea safety case regime. The risk-based, site-specific approach of the safety case regime is considered advantageous to the fundamentally reactive prescriptive regulatory regimes. The UK’s safety case regime is considered as the established best practice amongst EU Member States.

The report also emphasises that the issuing of licences and other approvals for the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbon releases should remain with the Member States. This includes any decision on whether to suspend deepwater drilling or not. Furthermore, the ITRE are not recommending a European regulator for all offshore operations as there are concerns over the tension that this would cause between Member States and doubts over whether such an approach would bring any added-value.

The Commission is due to publish its legislative package on offshore oil and gas activities in September.

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