* Member states, governments need to give final endorsement
* Environmentalists see progress, but not enough
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Feb 21 The European Union on Thursday
agreed its first law to regulate safety in offshore oil and gas
drilling across the 27-member bloc and seek to prevent any
repeat of BP's catastrophic Gulf of Mexico spill.
Some environmental campaigners said the law, which still
needs final endorsement from member states and the European
Parliament, was not robust enough. Others argued it could help
to protect Arctic waters from oil spills.
Politicians from Britain, a major EU offshore producer, were
among the first to welcome it.
They argue British standards of safety, based on decades of
experience in the tough environment of the North Sea, are
already excellent and the new law would oblige others to follow
"These rules will make sure that the highest safety
standards already mostly in place in some member states will be
followed at every oil and gas platform across Europe," EU Energy
Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement.
"Past accidents have shown the devastating consequences when
things go badly wrong offshore. Recent 'near-misses' in EU
waters reminded us of the need for a stringent safety regime."
The Commission reviewed existing national safety rules in
the aftermath of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico accident in May 2010
and said it wanted to guarantee the world's highest safety,
health and environmental standards throughout the European
EMERGENCY PLANNING, RISK ASSESSMENT
The legislation covers the criteria for awarding operating
licences and penalties for breaching safety standards, which
could lead to loss of licence.
Companies will also have to carry out emergency planning and
risk assessment and will be fully liable for any environmental
damage up to about 370 km (200 nautical miles) from the coast.
Although the new rules will only apply to EU waters, the
Commission says it will work with international partners to
promote such standards across the world.
In a statement, Green members of the European Parliament
urged the assembly not to give final approval.
Austrian Green politician Eva Lichtenberger said the new
legislation did not close all the gaps in safety regimes.
"It also fails to call for a moratorium on drilling in
sensitive or extreme environments (like the Arctic)," she said.
But environmental campaigning group Greenpeace said the
preliminary deal was positive and its demand for risk assessment
could deter unscrupulous operators.
"This deal on the EU safety law for offshore drilling would
go some way to ensuring that oil companies think long and hard
before they embark on a risky adventure in the Arctic,"
Greenpeace EU climate policy director Joris den Blanken said.
"Unfortunately, this deal still leaves too much wiggle-room
in its implementation," he added.
Britain was among those who campaigned for the law to be a
directive, meaning each member state is left to transcribe it
into its own domestic legislation, rather than an EU regulation
that would automatically apply across the 27 members once
British Conservative members of the European Parliament said
they had headed off EU proposals that could have lowered
standards in the North Sea.
"Instead of levelling safety standards down, we will be
encouraging the rest of Europe to match Britain's high
standards," said British Conservative Vicky Ford.