Deal will ensure new safety regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction in EU waters.
Member states and MEPs struck a deal today (21 February) on
new safety regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction in
EU waters. The new legislation was first proposed by the European Commission
after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The directive opens a new area of competence for the EU, as
previously member states were free to set their own standards for issuing
drilling permits. Under the new rules offshore drilling will remain a national
competence, but member states must demand specific information from companies
wishing to drill in their waters. It will not give the EU supervisory control
over offshore drilling, as called for by campaigners.
The new rules will require oil and gas firms to submit major
hazard reports and emergency response plans before they are given a license to
drill. They also must demonstrate financial and technical ability to remedy any
damage caused by a spill. It firmly establishes that liability for a spill
rests with the oil or gas firm.
The directive also requires member states to prepare
emergency response plans for all offshore drilling installations within their
jurisdiction. The Commission had originally proposed a regulation, but MEPs and
member states changed the form to a directive, which must be implemented by
member states, in order to avoid redrafting existing national laws on drilling
that are equivalent. Governments have two years to transpose the directive.
Belgian centre-right MEP Ivo Belet, who led negotiations for
the Parliament, said the new rules were badly needed. “Now
that several member states are exploring new drilling operations, we need an efficient
legislative framework,” he said.
Reaction from environmentalists
was mixed. Greenpeace welcomed the fact that the new law could limit or even
prevent oil drilling under harsh conditions, such as those in the Arctic, where
cleaning up an oil spill is impossible. But they regretted that it is not
Campaign group Oceana said the agreement represents a missed
opportunity because the Commission's original proposal was watered down. “It is
outrageous that Member States would adopt a weakened legislation that allows
business-as-usual for the powerful oil industry at the expense of EU citizens,
public health and the environment,” said Oceana executive director Xavier
Pastor. He said the fact that the new law does not increase EU supervision
through the European Maritime and Safety Agency means there is still a risk of
Vicky Ford, a British MEP from the ECR group, welcomed the
fact that MEPs and member states removed more stringent aspects of the
Commission's proposal. She said the initial proposal would have denied member
states the required flexibility to adapt measures to their own national
"We were facing an attempt to 'Europeanise' national
offshore competences by forcing member states to repeal key parts of their
domestic law and replace them with a one-size-fits-all piece of EU
legislation,” she said. “It would have forced the UK oil and gas industry to
divert resources to these changes. That would have caused serious project
delays and dealt a blow to the economy, investment, jobs and energy security.”
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