Oil exploration and
extraction - risks, liability and regulation
Speech by Commissioner Oettinger at the
European Parliament Plenary Session Strasbourg,
7 July 2010
Mr President, honourable Members of the European Parliament,
ladies and gentlemen,
This is the second time in less than two months that I speak to you about the
potential risks linked with offshore oil exploration and extraction. When I
first addressed this Plenary in May, I had just convened the representatives of
major companies with offshore oil production activities in Europe. I asked them
to provide responses to a questionnaire scrutinizing their safety policies. We
will review both applicable standards and procedures in order to identify
possible weaknesses at a meeting next week. I have proposed to your environment
committee to come and discuss the results with you the very next day (15 July).
In parallel, the various Commission services concerned have been looking into
the existing legislation.
The interim results of Commission's review show that offshore safety is covered
by a number of complex legislative acts. However the problem is not so much the
number of legislation. The key question is: do all these pieces of legislation
provide a complete enough coverage for risk management and prevention as well as
post-damage follow-up? The answer is not straightforward. This is why I have
been working closely with my most concerned colleagues, Commissioners Georgieva,
Damanaki and Potočnik. The idea is to make sure that we cover all the stages in
the process: from prevention to response and liability issues. In this sense,
Commissioner Damanaki, who will address you next, will further refer to the
maritime aspects of the challenge we're facing, notably how we can turn the
terrible accident in the Gulf of Mexico into an opportunity for literally
"untapped waters" so far, such as the potential for renewable ocean energy.
No matter what regulatory regime is in place and how well supervised, it is the
industry, the individual companies which are the first in line. They must take
the issue of safety as absolute concern because they are aware that they bear
full responsibility. They must maintain a 100% "safety first" policy from their
side. Safety is non negotiable. In terms of operational and labour force safety,
we have ascertained that the standards and principles set in European
legislation provide for a high level of prevention. On the question of
liability, "polluter pays" is the underlying principle of our environmental
liability system. Overall, legislation applicable in Europe built on it serves
us well, addressing a wide range of risks and challenges associated with this
kind of industrial activity. However, we have also seen that there is scope for
improvement. Existing legislation could be made clearer and up to date. Be
assured that, if proven necessary, we will not hesitate to come with legislative
initiatives in the coming months.
This is the reason why I also called a meeting with the national regulatory and
supervisory authorities next week 14 July. Together with Commissioners Potočnik
and Damanaki, we will be discussing concrete steps to improve safety.
Operational matters as well as regulatory issues will be examined. On the
latter, I would like to be certain that EU's standards are set at the highest
possible level in order to maintain the most stringent regime in the world.
Similarly, I want to get the assurance that controls are effective. In this
respect, I would not hesitate to propose a European framework for "controlling
the controllers" if need be.
I also appreciate the discussions that we have had so far with you on the
subject, as they have been useful contributions to best assess the potential
problems of the offshore industry, on which we need to focus.