UK oil chiefs insist deep water drilling safe

The UK oil industry has insisted that there was "no case" for a moratorium on offshore drilling in deep water in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The UK oil industry has insisted that there was "no case" for a moratorium on offshore drilling in deep water in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Industry leaders told MPs investigating the implications of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, amid fears a similar event could occur here, that the regulatory regime in the UK was "very, very strong".

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of industry body Oil and Gas UK said this country's regulation is "superior" to the US system under which the Deepwater Horizon well was operating when it exploded in April, killing 11 workers and causing a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

He warned that preventing drilling of wells in the waters of the UK continental shelf would send a very negative message to industry investors who needed to pour £60 billion into exploration and extraction to support UK energy security.

"These investment funds will be prejudiced if the regime is stop-go, switch on, switch off, particularly if there's no good reason for the switch off," he told the Energy and Climate Change select committee.

Webb told the MPs there was no case for a moratorium "given the strength of the regulatory regime we have here".

"Just because an event has happened in another part of the world, doesn't mean to say a regime such as ours, because that has happened, should stop doing what we're doing in what I believe is an entirely safe and proper way," he said.

Paul King, managing director of Transocean, the drilling company operating BP's Deepwater Horizon rig when it exploded, killing nine company employees, insisted the firm took safety seriously.

In the wake of an Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report which contained claims of bullying and intimidation of Transocean employees on offshore rigs, he said the company "cares deeply about the way our people work offshore, and that they work safely".

He said the HSE report flagged up isolated cases, with investigations by the company failing to find any evidence that the problems were widespread.

Asked if there were financial pressures to cut corners on oil rigs, Mark McAllister, chairman of the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (Osprag), said the financial cost of failure to enforce safety measures or of poor design or planning on drilling rigs, was great.

He said Osprag, which was formed to review the UK's practices in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster and involves industry representatives from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the HSE, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and trade unions, was first looking at ways to make sure "we reduce as low as possible" the chances of an oil rig spill in the North Sea.

It was also looking at how to ensure any spill that may occur is dealt with as quickly as possible, he said.

Webb added that while he thought people in other countries could learn from UK practices and procedures, he did not see the need for a European regulatory regime - which he warned could lead to a dumbing down of UK rules, rather than lifting the whole of the EU up to the highest standards.

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