Offshore safety: First informal trialogue on safety of offshore oil and gas activities held in Brussels

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Publish date: November 29, 2012

First ‘exploratory’ talks will start late afternoon today between Commission, Cyprus Presidency and the Rapporteur Ivo Belet after the Parliament’s ITRE Committee negotiated a mandate back in October. The Council worked out its compromise position last Friday 23 November.

 “The proposed EU regulation will apply best practice throughout the EU. We expect that the Parliament will not let the Council further water-down the most important provisions such as financial guarantees of operators, public participation, EU oversight and accident prevention outside the EU”, says Paal Frisvold, Chairman of Bellona Europa. “During the upcoming talks, Parliament should push the Council to restrict the licensing in the Arctic waters and include the definition of oil-spill response gap”, he added.

State of play

The proposal has been intensely debated in the Council since autumn 2011 and in the Parliament since June this year.

The ITRE Committee voted to change the regulation into directive, which will put more responsibility on the Member States to ensure enforcement of the new safety framework throughout the EU. The mandate of the European Maritime Safety Agency has been somewhat widened to cover monitoring of the national rules.

On the Council side, several Member States still have serious reservations on proposal for public participation to be conducted even before the exploration stage of offshore projects.  Council will also argue about the required level of independence of the competent authority issuing the exploration licenses and will attempt to weaken the provisions related to safety of operations conducted outside the EU.

Ireland will take the lead on this dossier as of January 2013 as it is highly unlikely that Cyprus Presidency will reach an agreement on all these issues by the end of this year.

Here are the Key recommendations from Bellona to the decision-makers 

Protection of the Arctic 

 Cautious approach to offshore drilling in the Arctic is needed as current technology and extreme weather conditions prevent effective emergency response and put at risk this highly vulnerable ecosystem.  In the absence of moratorium the definition of “oil-spill response gap”, inspired from Alaska law, shall be included in the final text.

Competent authorities and EMSA

Independence of authorities assessing the safety from those issuing the drilling licenses has to be retained in the final text.  EMSA mandate should, as a minimum, be extended to cover emergency preparedness and interventions related to cross-border effects of oil and gas operations.

Public Participation

It is vital that the public and civil society get early access to information about offshore oil and gas projects. Strong provisions are necessary to address a loophole in the existing acquis i. e. public participation not being obligatory in the exploratory phase in some Member States.

Financial security and major accident prevention outside the EU

Commission should insist on guaranteeing strict financial liability for operators with a legal obligation to provide a financial security before they start operations.  Strong provisions to ensure that the highest safety standards are globally applied and reported on by EU-based companies have to be included in the final text and the Commission should urgently present an effective mechanism for that purpose.