EU plan oil platform safety laws

Proposals for the first EU-wide laws on oil platform safety and standards are likely early next year, the European Commission has said.

The move follows a review of existing rules which the Commission now says revealed the need for an overhaul, including "more coherent" legislation to guarantee the highest safety standards.

A report recently released suggested tighter controls on granting drilling permits, independent supervision of oil platforms and new technical criteria for safety controls - including the kind of "blow-out preventer" believed to have failed in the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gunter Oettinger, EU energy Commissioner, who held meetings earlier this year with oil and gas companies operating off-shore in Europe, said: "Safety is non-negotiable. We have to make sure that a disaster similar to the one in the Gulf of Mexico will never happen in European waters. This is why we propose that best practices already existing in Europe will become the standard throughout the EU".

However his earlier call for a moratorium on all new drilling for oil in European waters has been ditched after disagreements with other Commissioners and staunch opposition from the UK Government. The European Parliament recently voted 323 to 285 against a call from some MEPs for a moratorium.

The report says the review revealed that, "although safety standards in the EU industry are generally high, the rules often vary from company to company and legislation differs from one member state to another."

Some safety issues on oil platforms come under existing EU rules but "the analysis showed that an overhaul and a more coherent legal framework are needed if the highest safety standards are to be assured."

The report says formal proposals for new laws could be tabled "early next year", covering prevention of oil rig accidents, disaster responses and financial liability.

The Commission is expected to propose that the granting of new drilling licenses to be subject to new agreements on company contingency plans and proof that the company can pay for environmental damage in the event of an accident.

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