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EU considers deepwater oil restrictions: report

MILAN (Reuters) - The European Union could consider limiting the depth of deepwater oil drilling as part of new rules following BP’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Europe’s energy chief said in an interview on Saturday.

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told La Stampa newspaper the 27-nation bloc could evaluate if it needed another agency to oversee offshore exploration or if the European Maritime Safety Agency could take action on deepwater rigs.

“One decision could be that of saying that you cannot go beyond a certain X depth. Another is that of giving a time limit on drilling licenses,” he said.

Some rigs were very old and a standard was needed to modernize them, he said.

La Stampa said Oettinger would meet with European oil company executives on Wednesday to discuss drilling and safety rules.

Oettinger repeated his suggestion for a moratorium on new deepwater drilling permits until more secure rules were in place.

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He did not give a time limit for a freeze, but said: “We want to be able to put together a catalog of the possible consequences for every new well. And we want it this year.”

Oettinger said oil companies should be obligated to take out insurance to pay for damages. An industry fund would be only a last resort, he said.

A U.S. presidential panel to probe the cause of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will hold its first public meeting in New Orleans on Monday and Tuesday, and has six months to do its work.

The U.S. administration had issued a moratorium on offshore drilling to give the commission time for its investigation, but it now hangs in the balance after a federal court lifted the ban. The U.S. government is appealing.

Reporting by Ian Simpson