Monday

12th Nov 2018

Oettinger backtracks on oil drilling ban

  • The Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico has caused huge environmental damage (Photo: European Community, 2006)

The European Commission appears to have backtracked on earlier plans for a compulsory moratorium on deepwater oil drilling inside the EU, with new proposals set to call for a voluntary ban at member state discretion.

The executive's energy commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, is scheduled to announce the review of Europe's drilling activities on Wednesday (13 October), calling on national governments to voluntarily suspend drilling in very deep waters and environmentally sensitive areas like the Arctic.

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A more forceful draft circulating last week simply called on member states to implement the ban however, attracting the ire of British MEPs who feared such a move would cost jobs.

The EU's biggest oil reserves are found in the North Sea off Scotland, with MEPs from the region instrumental in watering down a parliamentary declaration last week that ultimately opposed a compulsory ban, while at the same calling for tighter security restrictions in the sector.

That warning appears to have been taken on-board, with Wednesday's final draft set to give member states the means, under EU law, to impose a ban if they choose, according to Reuters.

Green MEPs welcomed the proposals to strengthen EU rules but were disappointed by the commission's softened stance on a drilling ban, arguing that Europe is not prepared to deal with a spill on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

"The only responsible course of action is to freeze dangerous deep sea drilling activities and we regret that the commission has backtracked on proposals in earlier drafts," said Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes.

As well as the voluntary ban, Mr Oettinger is expected to call for an overhaul of the EU's licensing and the liability regimes to make sure that oil companies have the necessary financial means to pay for the cleanup after a potential spill in the future.

A formal legislative proposal in this area - such as a review of the EU's directive on environmental liability - may follow early next year, but will need the support of the European Parliament and all 27 member states.

Energy experts have meanwhile warned that any delay in future drilling projects could push up the price of oil.

Speaking at an oil conference in London on Tuesday, Nobuo Tanaka, the head of the International Energy Agency, said about one third of global oil production comes from offshore projects, with this figure set to rise to roughly one half by 2015.

On the same day, Washington announced the end of its moratorium on deepwater oil drilling after imposing new rules intended to prevent a similar disaster to the Deepwater Horizon accident happening again.

Eleven workers died and roughly 200 million gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf after the BP-leased oil rig exploded in April, causing huge environmental damage in the area.

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