Safety of offshore oil and gas exploration and
production. Questions & Answers:
Why do we need EU
safety legislation for oil platforms?
Offshore accidents do not
know borders. If a similar explosion would
happen as the one in the Gulf of Mexico, this
would have serious effects in many Member
States. It is in the interest of citizens that
the highest safety standard already existing in
given company or Member States will become the
standard throughout the European Union.
Although, oil platforms fall
already under a series of existing EU
legislation, loopholes exist: if a rig accident
occurs within the zone of maximal 12 nautical
miles from coast, the oil company has to pay for
the water damage and take remedial actions under
the EU Environmental Liability Directive. Beyond
12 miles, no such EU rules exist.
What is new?
The European Commission for
the very first time envisages comprehensive EU
legislation on oil platforms covering the
prevention, the response and the financial
liability. This might take the form of a single
piece of legislation.
Granting permits: Although
Member States will continue to grant licences
for drillings, they will have to apply key EU
criteria. Oil companies must have a contingency
plan and prove that they have the financial
means available to them to pay for environmental
damage caused in the event of an accident.
Controls: Oil platforms are
controlled by national authorities. These
supervision tasks of national authorities should
be evaluated by independent experts. This is a
completely new requirement.
Standards for safety equipment:
Technical standards will ensure that only
control equipment meeting the highest safety
standards will be allowed. At the moment, EU
product safety legislation does not apply to
mobile offshore drillings.
Damages: Oil companies will
have to remedy the damage caused to the
protected marine species and natural habitat up
to max 200 nautical miles from the coast. At
present, the EU Environmental Liability
Directive does not cover fish in terms of
commercial commodities but protected fish and
covers only the 12 nautical mile zone as the
water quality as such. The European Maritime
Safety Agency (EMSA), presently focussing on
pollution caused by ships, will also help on
those caused by oil platforms.
Commission will work for implementing existing
international conventions and new common
initiatives. At the moment, the protocol of the
Barcelona Convention governing safety of oil
rigs in the Mediterranean is not in force yet,
as one signature is missing. If Italy will
ratify as announced, the rules will enter into
Have you learnt from
the Gulf of Mexico? Will new EU rules prevent
what went wrong there?
In the case of the Deepwater
Horizon rig, several failures coincided
according to analyses available to date. It is
already clear that the blow up preventer failed
when pressure reached limits. Within the
framework of technical standards of control
equipment, we can set also quality standards for
blow up preventers.
Likewise, in the case of the
Deepwater Horizon, it took several months to
design and drill a relief well to stop oil
leaking into the sea water. In the contingency
plans, which oil companies have to submit to
national authorities, they should be required
also to show that they can design these wells in
a timely manner.
These are only examples. By
the time EU rules are proposed in 2011, reports
on the investigations of the Deepwater Horizon
should be completed and will be fully utilized.
When will the
Commission table the legislative proposals?
The Commission will present
its legislative proposals early in 2011.
Are there any rigs in
European waters being as deep as Deepwater
Out of the 12 European
Economic Area (EEA) countries having offshore
operations, only Norway reports to have
operating offshore activities in water depths of
up to 1,300 meters. However, many countries want
to follow Norway's example: In the UK, west of
Shetlands, exploration is planned in a depths of
up to 1,600 meters, near the Faroe Islands at a
sea depth of 1,100 meters. Romania has awarded a
licence for drilling in the Black sea, at a
water depth of 1,000 meters.
In Libyan waters in the
Mediterranean, wells were drilled at 1,500
meters and beyond, but drillings are also
planned in water depth exceeding 2,000 meters.
In Egypt, wells are planned in waters up to
Why does the depth
As divers can only operate in
a maximum depth of 200-250 meters, intervention
in deeper waters in case of accidents become
already difficult. In depths of 1000 meters, the
pressure is such that even rescue work with
remote control gets difficult.
Which EU countries
have oil drillings?
Out of the nearly 900
offshore installations operating in the EU, 486
are in the UK, 181 in the Netherlands, 61 in
Denmark, 2 in Germany, 2 in Ireland, 123 in
Italy, 4 in Spain, 2 in Greece, 7 in Romania, 1
in Bulgaria and 3 in Poland. Cyprus and Malta
plan to start drilling activities in the near