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4th Feb 2023

MEPs reject oil drilling ban but commission to push ahead

  • Green MEPs say Europe is not equipped to deal with an oil spill like the one seen in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo: Deepwater Horizon Response)

MEPs have rejected a call for a temporary ban on new deep-water oil drilling in Europe, but the European Commission looks set to come forward next week with a proposal for a moratorium.

Scottish MEPs hailed the decision as a victory on Thursday (7 October) after a full sitting of the chamber narrowly voted to reject a non-binding resolution calling for the ban by 323 votes to 285.

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Parliament's environmental committee had earlier proposed the resolution, which called for a halt to all new oil drilling until uniform oil-rig safety standards and procedures were introduced.

The lawmakers did however vote to tighten security restrictions and increase compensation to be paid by companies in the wake of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

With the EU's biggest oil reserves found off the Scottish coast in the North Sea, politicians from the area have voiced concerns that a temporary cessation of new drilling could cost jobs.

"Our oil industry is renowned for its safety and security technology which we export worldwide," said Scottish Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson. "Far too many jobs have been lost because of the Gulf of Mexico spill. It would seem crazy that we would want to create even more through our response."

Green MEPs were disappointed by the decision. "The possibility of a serious accident from off-shore exploration in Europe is all too real and Europe is simply not equipped to deal with the devastating consequences," said Belgian euro-deputy Bart Staes.

An explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on the 20 April caused the death of 11 workers and huge environmental damage to local ecosystems after roughly 200 million gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf. BP eventually managed to block the broken well.

Although non-binding in nature, Thursday's declaration sends an important signal to the European Commission ahead of its expected publication on 13 October of a regulatory clampdown on oil drilling.

"The EU has a vital interest in preventing a similar disaster," said a draft of the proposal seen by Reuters on Thursday.

"The commission re-iterates its call upon the member states to suspend the licensing of complex oil or gas exploration operations until technical investigations to the causes of the Deepwater Horizon accident are completed and the European offshore safety regime has been reviewed," it adds.

The proposal needs the support of EU member states and the European Parliament if it is to become law. It is expected to focus on a stricter licensing system for oil companies, together with greater corporate liability in the event of an accident.

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