NGO suggestions echoed in first EP discussion on offshore safety proposal

photo: Rhonda Surman

Publish date: June 1, 2012

Written by: Kristina Östman

In the first European Parliament (EP) exchange of views on the offshore safety regulation proposed by the European Commission, a number of direct references were made to suggestions put forward by Bellona and partners from other environmental NGOs.

The proposal for an offshore safety regulation was adopted by the Commission on 27 October 2011 and has since then been intensely debated among stakeholders, in media and in the Council of the European Union. Only now have discussions started in the European Parliament, co-legislator on EU legislation with the Council, with the first exchange of views in the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee on 30 May.

Regulation vs. directive

Driven by a strong push by the oil and gas industry, mainly in the UK and Norway, the discussions have until now been dominated by the legal form of the proposal. The proposal is for a regulation, which means it would be transposed literally into national law and would guarantee uniform implementation of consistently high standards across the EU. This is something Bellona strongly supports. Much of the industry, however, opposes the choice of a regulation, claiming it would cause an administrative burden so severe that it would jeopardise the safety of the offshore operations in countries which already have mature offshore safety regimes. They prefer a directive, whereby national governments are given significant leeway in the implementation of the legislation. Despite a lack of substantiation of these claims, this view has received support from a range of governments and has to an extent hindered a constructive discussion on the proposal’s substance.

The discussion in ITRE, which has the lead responsibility for the file within the European Parliament, was therefore a breath of fresh air. The discussion was centred on content and the remarks on the legal form were mainly balanced. Michèle Rivasi, the shadow rapporteur for the Greens in the committee, spoke out in favour of a regulation and received some support from Alejo Vidal-Quadras and Pilar del Castillo Vera, both representing the European People’s Party (EPP).

Getting the message across

Prior to the discussions, Bellona has together with four other environmental NGOs approached the lead figures in the three committees dealing with the file in the Parliament with the intention of making the legislation as effective as possible. The joint NGO position paper, which can be viewed here, sets out seven requests aiming at strengthening the proposal. Of these, five were directly referred to in the ITRE discussion.

The rapporteur for the file, Ivo Belet from EPP, requested specific consideration of sensitive and challenging environments like the Arctic, and received support from shadow rapporteur Fiona Hall representing the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). The lack of specific consideration of these environments is in Bellona’s point of view one of the serious weaknesses of the proposal.

The requested need for European oversight of the implementation of the legislation was echoed by two MEPs. Michèle Rivasi requested an EU agency, as suggested by the NGOs, whereas Fiona Hall suggested giving an increased responsibility to the recently established EU Offshore Authorities Group. Both of these shadow rapporteurs also argued for a provision requiring EU operators to maintain the same safety standards when operating outside the Union as within.

Fiona Hall emphasised the importance of information sharing and transparency, requesting that operators release their internal emergency response plans to the public. Michèle Rivasi echoed the request to include offshore oil and gas activities in the Environmental Crime Directive, allowing negligent behaviour in the industry to be criminalised.

The remaining two points requested by the informal alliance of NGOs – to require financial security by the operators and to require third party verification to be truly independent – were not explicitly referred to in this introductory discussion.

Way forward

Discussions will continue in the ITRE committee on 11 July and are starting in the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and the Legal Affairs (JURI) committees who have shared responsibilities for the file. Bellona will continue to work with Oceana, Seas at Risk, ClientEarth and Greenpeace to target decision makers on the matter with the intention of improving the legislation further.

“The recent Elgin accident demonstrates that not even the best North Sea regimes are good enough,” Ivo Belet stated, stressing the importance of delivering an ambitious piece of legislation at the end of the process. “There is no room for complacency, we need to improve everywhere”, he added.