British Government North Sea Review
Government to launch North Sea review
The Government will launch a review of environmental regulation of North Sea oil and gas rigs in January in the wake of BP’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The move comes as oil giants from Chevron to BP prepare to launch ambitious deep-water drilling campaigns in sensitive areas west of Shetland for the first time.
Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, insisted following the accident eight months ago that Britain’s “safety and environmental regulatory regime is fit for purpose”.
But now that investigations have shed light on some causes of the Gulf of Mexico incident, his department will begin a wholesale review of environmental precautions in the New Year.
Its conclusions are expected to be published in May – more than a year after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon caused the biggest offshore oil spill in history.
A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) spokesman confirmed the move and said it had been postponed while waiting for the outcome of various investigations into BP. Officials have already begun preliminary work.
After the accident, DECC increased the number of health and safety officials and doubled the annual environmental inspections for oil rigs. The oil and gas industry is also working on plans to improve response to leaks through the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG).
However, Greenpeace has criticised the reaction as inadequate and is suing the Government at the High Court to try to stop it authorising new deep water drilling in the North Sea on environmental grounds.
It argues that a failure to review protection the area’s eco-system in the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill means new permits should not be handed out.
“A review of environmental regulations should already have been done,” said Ben Ayliffe, a campaigner for the pressure group.
Chevron, the US oil giant, was the first to begin a deep water drilling at Lagavulin, 160 miles north of Shetland, as part of a huge increase in exploration in the area.
However, Greenpeace has taken issue with its most recent version of the company’s spill response plan. In the document, Chevron claims that dolphins and whales should naturally avoid oil leaks because of their “good swimming abilities”.
Chevron admitted last month it had undertaken to revise upwards its “worst case scenario” forecasts for potential oil spills in the West of Shetland field to 77,000 barrels per day – a higher flow rate than BP saw in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Rowena Mason writes about energy for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @rowenamason