Rise in safety checks on North Sea oil and gas rigs since 2010
Total's Elgin platform in the North Sea
Data from law firm Pinsent Masons has shown that safety checks on UK North Sea oil and gas rigs have risen by nearly a third since 2010, while the number of safety lapses highlighted by government inspectors has grown compared with the mid-2000s.
The number of safety checks on North Sea rigs rose to 79 so far in 2012, compared with 59 in 2010, when BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico tightened international monitoring of the industry.
Just 39 inspections were conducted in 2007, according to Pinsent Masons, citing data obtained from the government through a request under Britain's Freedom of Information Act.
As checks have increased in frequency, there has also been a rise in the number of enforcement notices, which warn rig operators to rectify lapses or face prosecution, issued by the Offshore Environment Inspectorate (OEI), Pinsent Masons said.
"The news, which coincides with the two-year anniversary of the Gulf leak being capped, comes at a sensitive time for the oil and gas industry after the European Union recently outlined proposals for a regulation governing offshore safety - something which critics argue would effectively lower safety standards," the company said.
"The UK offshore safety regime is, rightly, one of the toughest in the world," Laura Cameron, a partner at Pinsent Masons, said.
"Directors can be held personally and criminally liable for Health and Safety failings under the Health and Safety at Work Act...In our experience that certainly focuses the mind at boardroom level," she added.
Inspectors issued five enforcement notices last year, three in 2010 and four in 2009 as checks increased. That compares with one notice being issued each year in 2007 and 2008.
Only one enforcement notice has been issued so far this year and there have been no prosecutions since 2010.
However, a blowout earlier this year at Total's Elgin platform in the North Sea, which led to a two-month crisis and leaking of a massive amount of gas, has fuelled fresh scrutiny of offshore safety standards.
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