Offshore oil: no drilling without hazard report and emergency response plan  

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Offshore oil and gas firms would have to submit major hazard reports and emergency response plans before getting a licence to drill under a draft law approved by the Energy Committee on Tuesday. Licences would be granted only if the firm could prove it has enough cash to remedy any environmental damage caused. The draft will now be negotiated with the Council.

The draft law, endorsed by the Energy Committee by 48 votes to 7 with 1 abstention, would replace the EU member states' current patchwork of laws and practices offshore drilling activities. It is designed to prevent accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. 

"Europe has learnt from the catastrophe with the Deepwater rig in the Gulf of Mexico and wants to limit the environmental and safety risks of offshore oil and gas exploration to a minimum. Especially today, when many member states with no or little experience in oil and gas operations, are looking into starting up drilling operations, a solid legislative framework is urgently needed", said Ivo Belet (EPP, BE), who drafted the Energy Committee resolution and will now lead  negotiations with the Council.

Licence to drill

All drilling licence applicants would need to prove their ability to remedy any potential damage. They would have to provide evidence of "adequate financial security" to cover liabilities deriving from their drilling activities, and would not be authorised to start drilling unless national authorities deem this security to be "valid and effective".

Major hazards report

Drilling companies would be required to submit to the national authorities a special report, describing the drilling installation, potential major hazards and special arrangements to protect workers, before starting operations and at the latest 24 weeks before the planned start. Companies would also be required to review these reports at least every 5 years.

Internal and external emergency response plans

Companies would also have to provide an internal emergency plan, giving a full description of the equipment and resources available, action to be taken in the event of an accident and all arrangements made to limit risks and give the authorities early warning.

At the same time, EU member states would have to prepare external emergency response plans covering all offshore drilling installations within their jurisdiction. These plans would specify the role of drilling companies and their liability for costs in the event of a disaster. These plans should also specify the roles of relevant authorities and emergency response teams and indicate how all affected parties will be rapidly informed.

Scientific and technical assistance

Energy Committee MEPs would like to see a clearer and stronger role for the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) in preventing accidents. They inserted an amendment saying that EMSA would use its scientific and technical expertise to help the European Commission and EU countries to prepare and execute emergency response plans and to detect and control the environmental impact of any oil spill.

A directive or a regulation?

Although the Commission's initial proposal referred to a "regulation" (which would be directly binding upon all member states),Energy Committee MEPs proposed today a directive (which lays down ends, but leaves means to member states) instead.

"While a Regulation has the advantage of its direct applicability, questions have been raised about the significant revocation and amendments of existing equivalent national legislation and guidance this might entail. Such redrafting would divert scarce resources from the safety assessments and inspections on the field", said rapporteur Ivo Belet (EPP, BE).

Next steps

Tuesday's vote gives the rapporteur a mandate to enter into negotiations with the Council. Informal three-way discussions are expected to start later this month. When these negotiations are complete, Parliament will put the draft to a plenary vote.

In the chair: Amalia Sartori (EPP, IT)