14th Apr 2024

EU offers equipment to US as oil spat brews

  • The cleanup operation in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo: Deepwater Horizon Response)

The European Union has pledged to send additional equipment to help contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, even as Washington and London appear to be heading for a diplomatic spat over the disaster.

"Europe is determined to fight this ecological disaster alongside the US authorities," the EU's crisis response commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, said in a statement on Friday (11 June) after several member states offered support.

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Sweden, Germany, Norway, the UK and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) agreed to provide booms used to restrict the oil spreading following a US request on Thursday evening.

Dutch equipment is already being used by US authorities who are desperately trying to contain oil escaping from an underwater well after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leased by UK energy giant British Petroleum, exploded on 20 April, killing 11 workers.

Latest estimates suggest 25,000 barrels per day are still escaping despite a partial capping of the well last week.

On Friday, British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg warned against a growing row between the two sides of the Atlantic. "I don't frankly think we will reach a solution to stopping the release of oil into the ocean any quicker by allowing this to spiral into a tit-for-tat political diplomatic spat," he said from Spain after a meeting with the Spanish prime minister.

The caution comes after Mr Clegg's boss, British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday reminded the US of the "economic value" BP brings to the US, as share values in the embattled company plummeted.

Earlier in the week, US President Barack Obama launched a direct attack on BP's chief executive Tony Hayward, saying he would have fired the executive if he was in charge of the company. He added that he was on a fact-finding mission to find out "whose ass to kick" over the disaster, which pundits say could damage Mr Obama's political standing.

British press report that the two leaders are set to discuss the issue in a telephone call tomorrow.

Lessons for Europe?

The ecological disaster caused by the spill has prompted European politicians to examine their own safety procedures and ability to cope with a similar event, while environmentalists say the event highlights the West's continued over-dependence on fossil fuels.

"This is clearly a result of politicians believing that the oil industry knew what they were doing," said Greenpeace spokesman Mark Breddy. "Drilling for oil is not the solution, we must develop renewable resources."

Norway indicated earlier this month that it will not allow any deepwater oil and gas drilling in new areas until the investigation into the explosion and spill in the US Gulf of Mexico is complete.

National regulators in a number of member states have been told by governments to double-check safety procedures, while the EU is looking into the need for new legislation.

EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger called in senior energy executives on 11 May to explain their ability to deal with a comparable incident. The German politician is keen to identify any loopholes in the bloc's current legislation, although officials stress that Europe's deepwater drilling is much less prevalent than in the US.

In July, the commissioner will consult with national regulators and may then come forward with new proposals.

"If it turns out from these consultations and the analysis of the Gulf of Mexico accident that there is something we do not have in place, then he will consider making a proposal," Marlene Holzner, the commission's energy spokeswoman, told this website.

Europe's legislation in the oil sector was stepped up after the sinking of the Erica and Prestige oil-tankers in 1999 and 2002.

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