Photo: Foto: Wikimedia Commons
Since the beginning of 2012, environmentalists and oil companies alike have been trying to influence the EU parliamentarians’ voting on the Commission’s proposal to strengthen the Union’s offshore safety provisions, which came as a direct consequence of the tragic Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Even though Bellona Europa is dissatisfied that the proposal was weakened rather than strengthened during this week’s ITRE vote, it is a victory to see that the Parliamentarians do take the threat of an offshore accident seriously and want to continue to work for an EU-wide legislation. Especially since the petroleum industry and the major petroleum producing countries in Europe (particularly Norway and the UK) have tried to persuade Brussels that there is no need for such legislation.
In addition to having to prove their financial strength to repair any environmental damage following a possible accident, the ITRE committee wants oil and gas operators who seek licenses to drill offshore within the EU to prepare major hazards reports and provide Member States with internal emergency response plans.
EMSA role welcome
The fact that the European Marine Safety Agency’s (EMSA) role has been expanded to cover monitoring of the rules – albeit not to the degree which environmental organisations called for – is one of the more positive elements of the ITRE vote. In addition, EMSA should have been given responsibilities which would have provided the Union with comprehensive supervision in order to achieve true harmonisation of safety across the Union, but this is at least an important step to ensure Community level supervision from the EU body best placed to provide such expertise.
Protection of the Arctic
Unfortunately, the Committee did not seize the opportunity to send a clear signal regarding the developments in the Arctic, where remote and difficult conditions combined with vulnerable ecosystems could turn any oil spill into an environmental disaster. “Bellona and other environmental NGOs had called for a moratorium in the area”, said Sirin Engen, Policy Assistant at Bellona Europa, “a move which was supported by the EP Environment Committee ENVI. Disappointingly, ITRE chose to overrule the ENVI vote, ignoring recent warnings which are even voiced by parts of the industry itself.” The CEO of Total, a major French petroleum company, stated in September this year to Financial Times that oil drilling in the arctic is too risky.
Following the vote in support of MEP Ivo Belet’s proposal in ITRE, informal three-way discussions will commence later this month, before the draft is eventually sent to the European Parliament for a plenary vote. The discussions between the institutions are expected to be quite tough, and Bellona Europa sees the fact that Norwegian authorities will not participate in this process as a plus.