As OSPAR Commission countries meet to discuss offshore industry issues, recent reports make it clear that a moratorium on new oil drilling in the North East Atlantic is essential while new rules and procedures are developed and adopted to prevent another Deepwater Horizon style disaster.

Ministers attending the OSPAR Commission’s 2010 Ministerial Meeting deferred action on oil drilling but agreed that OSPAR would consider what if any action was needed only after it had reviewed reports into offshore oil drilling and the Deepwater Horizon disaster, including the USA Presidential investigation.

Since the Deepwater Horizon incident, which killed 11 workers and released an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the marine environment, reports from the US and the UK have highlighted a number of serious concerns relevant to oil drilling activities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Amongst a number of key findings in the USA Presidential investigation, the following statement was made:

“…the accident of April 20 was avoidable. It resulted from clear mistakes made in the first instance by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, and by government officials who, relying too much on industry’s assertions of the safety of their operations, failed to create and apply a program of regulatory oversight that would have properly minimised the risks of deepwater drilling. It is now clear that both industry and government need to reassess and change business practices to minimise the risks of such drilling.”

The UK’s Energy and Climate Change Committee found multiple issues of concern regarding UK operations in the North-East Atlantic - including risks that are associated with all offshore oil drilling practises and procedures - such as a fear amongst platform workers of speaking out about potential hazards, inadequate safety practises and an insufficient voluntary liability limit. The report made it clear that a lack of consideration is being applied to high impact Deepwater Horizon style scenarios:

“...we are concerned that the offshore oil and gas industry is responding to disasters, rather than anticipating worst-case scenarios and planning for high-consequence, low-probability events.”

In light of these findings Seas At Risk and Surfrider Foundation Europe are calling on this week’s meeting of OSPAR’s Offshore Industry Committee (Barcelona, 7-11th March) to prepare the way for a moratorium on all new offshore oil drilling, and at least all such new drilling in deep waters and otherwise extreme environments, until such time as the existing weaknesses attributable to offshore oil drilling have been properly dealt with by new regulations and procedures.
A precautionary OSPAR response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

For more information on the findings of the USA Presidential investigation:

For more information on the findings of the UK’s Energy and Climate Change Committee of the House of Commons

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