Oil firms must be held liable for the costs of any potential environmental damage - and have the means to pay - or else be denied licences to drill in EU waters, said environment committee MEPs voting on draft offshore oil and gas safety legislation on Wednesday.
"Legislation should more clearly require operators to put in place the financial guarantees necessary to cover the costs of clean up and compensation in the event of a major accident. This is in line with a key principle of EU environmental legislation - that the polluter should pay", said rapporteur Justas Paleckis (S&D, LT).
The new legislation will set minimum European standards for offshore oil and gas safety, regulating licensing, emergency plans and decommissioning of platforms. Operators will be obliged to reduce the risk of a major accident to the greatest extent possible.
Polluters to pay
MEPs tightened draft provisions on liability. Member state authorities should only grant licences to firms to explore and exploit offshore oil and gas if they have "adequate financial security" enabling them to pay for "full clean up or compensation" if there is fallout from their activities, especially for any environmental damage, says the committee.
Authorities should take into account companies' prior involvement in incidents worldwide - and the transparency and effectiveness of their responses - when granting licenses, said a majority within the committee.
Maritime safety agency
The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) should have a beefed-up role, with oversight powers for inspections and the capacity to provide member states with technical and scientific advice, or help in the event of a spill, say MEPs.
The environment committee approved its opinion by 55 votes to 10, with no abstentions. The committee shares responsibility for the draft legislation with the industry and energy committee, which is due to vote on 8 October.
Final approval of the legislation will require agreement between Parliament (in plenary) and member states (in Council).