Bellona calls for EU Member States to maintain oil spill response gap in the forthcoming EU directive on safety of offshore oil and gas activities

Styreleder i Bellona Europa Paal Frisvold diskuterer offshoresikkerhet.
Foto: Jennifer Jacquemart / (c) European Voice

Publish date: January 15, 2013

While the negotiations between the Council and the Parliament on the offshore safety of oils and gas activities reach the final stages, the UK wants to remove reference to the ‘oil spill response gap’ introduced by the Parliament and inspired by the Alaskan State Law as a way to describe the degree of inability to intervene in case of emergency in extreme weather conditions. ‘The EU must take cautious approach to offshore drilling in the Arctic. Current technology and extreme weather conditions prevent effective emergency response and put at risk this highly fragile ecosystem’ says Paal Frisvold, Chairman of Bellona Europa.

‘Bellona strongly urges the rapporteur of this dossier, Ivo Belet, to support the definition of the “oil-spill response gap’, as introduced by the Parliament. This specific risk-assessment must be part of any report on major hazards to quantify emergency preparedness. Similarly, technical annexes shall be cross-referred with oil-spill response gap to make sure that competent authorities approve plans only if they meet these requirements’ Frisvold continues.

Oil spills in the Arctic are of great concern because of difficult conditions, lack of infrastructure and distance.  Even a minor oil spill may turn into a large spill due to lack of immediate response in difficult weather

Shell Oil was forced to postpone completing wells in the Alaskan Arctic after a spill containment dome was damaged during a testing accident in September last year.  Shell’s failure to control its equipment in calm waters and under mild conditions clearly shows that the company would be unable to effectively stop an unexpected oil leak in Arctic waters, when harsh weather would complicate any spill response.

Due to increased interest in Arctic drillings the oil spill response gap is a subject of several studies. In March 2011, WWF Canada published a report providing recommendations for filling this response gap.  A “response gap” occurs when “environment conditions exceed the operating limits of oil spill cleanup equipment,” the document defines.  A response gap analysis shows the percentage of time at a given location that no response will occur because of logistical and safety reasons.  This study is particularly relevant in the Arctic where extreme conditions prevent an immediate response.

The definition introduced to the offshore safety directive by the European Parliament in a vote in October last year reads as follows:

‘oil spill response gap’ shall mean: a situation in which activities that may cause an oil spill are conducted at times when an effective response cannot be achieved, either because technology available will not be effective or because its deployment is precluded by environmental conditions or other limiting factors’

However, according to leaked UK position, oil spills can be dispersed by wind and wave action and this is in itself a form of effective “response”.  On this basis, it should be deleted from the text and mentions of it should not be placed in the annexes that deal with details of major hazard reports and emergency response plans, the UK argues.

The first informal trialogue on the offshore safety dossier was held on the 29 November.  Technical meetings are being held now to explore details of compromises. The final text will provide clarity on environmental liability following an offshore accident, public participation in offshore licensing process and on details of major hazard report as well as the role of competent authorities. The Irish presidency plans to get final adoption by the Energy Council on 22 February.