European Parliament approves offshore oil, gas safety directive

The European Parliament authorized a new offshore oil and gas operations directive that requires operators to prove their ability to cover potential liabilities and to submit major hazard reports and emergency response plans before operations start.

Lawmakers adopted the directive by a vote of 572 to 103, with 13 abstentions. In February the EU reached preliminary agreement on tougher offshore rules (OGJ Online, Feb. 21, 2013). Industry quickly reacted positively.

Robert Paterson, Oil & Gas UK’s health, safety, and employment director, said, “Oil & Gas UK has worked hard to campaign for this directive in place of the European Commission’s original proposition of a regulation and the very real danger to our workers’ safety that this would have brought.”

Paterson added, “In this, the 25th anniversary year of Piper Alpha—which was the world’s worst offshore disaster—we are heartened that the world-class goal-setting regulatory safety regime put in place after the disaster will be protected.”

A July 6, 1988, explosion and resulting fire killed 167 people aboard the Piper Alpha oil platform. Investigators blamed the blast on a gas-condensate leak from pipework connected to a condensate pump (OGJ, July 11, 1988, p. 20).

The safety valve had been removed for maintenance, the leak was ignited, and an explosion and fire followed. Meanwhile, 61 people aboard Piper Alpha survived the incident.

Paterson called the new directive “the best way to achieve the objective of raising standards across the EU to the high levels already present in the North Sea.”

All operators must ensure access to “sufficient physical, human, and financial resources to minimize and rectify the impact of a major accident,” the directive states. No license will be granted unless the applicant provides evidence that “adequate provision has been or will be made to cover liabilities potentially deriving from its offshore oil and gas operations.”

Drilling companies must submit a special report, describing the drilling installation, potential major hazards, and special arrangements to protect workers. Companies also will have to provide an internal emergency plan, giving a full description of the equipment and resources available, action to be taken in case of an incident, and all arrangements made to limit risks and give the authorities early warning.

EU member states will have to prepare external emergency response plans covering offshore installations within their jurisdiction. These plans will specify the role and financial obligations of drilling companies as well as the roles of relevant authorities and emergency response teams.

Other main elements of the EU directive involve standards for Arctic waters.

Member states with offshore waters that have no oil and gas operations under their jurisdiction as well as landlocked countries with companies registered in their territories will need to apply only a limited number of the directive's provisions.

Member states will have 2 years to transpose the directive into their national laws, and the directive will take effort for existing installations in 5 years.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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