By Mike Killalea, editor & publisher
Even as the deepwater drilling moratorium is lifted in the US, the European Commission urged member states to consider suspending licensing of “new complex oil or gas exploration operations” until European offshore safety regimes are assessed.
“While any decision to suspend offshore drilling operations is left to the discretion of Member States, the commission reiterates its call upon the Member States to rigorously apply a precautionary approach in the licensing of new complex oil or gas exploration operations and to examine whether a suspension of such licensing is needed until the European offshore safety regimes have been assessed in light of the Deepwater Horizon accident,” the commission proclaimed.
The announcement brought a speedy and blistering response from Oil & Gas UK, whose chief executive Malcolm Webb said, “Oil & Gas UK is extremely concerned that, once again, the EU Commission is calling for a suspension of new licensing, a measure that is wholly unjustified and inappropriate for the UK offshore oil and gas industry. It is also deeply worrying that in addition, it now proposes to implement centralized and prescriptive safety regulation.”
The result will be counterproductive, Mr Webb contended. “This would undermine the advanced and highly sophisticated regulatory regimes currently working so well, for example in the United Kingdom, Norway and the Netherlands,” he said.
Mr Webb pointed out that the UK’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG), a coalition of industry, regulators and trade unions, clearly demonstrates the “responsiveness of the safety-case regime and the open safety culture which it breeds.”
OSPRAG, which kicked off operations in May, recently announced plans to move ahead with commissioning detailed designs for a full/partial pressure-capping device with the potential to serve as a central element of the UK’s oil-spill response contingency plans. The engineering firm Wood Group Kenny developed the system, developing three design concepts. Of these, OSPRAG opted to progress with a modular device to close off a well in the event of a blowout. OSPRAG said that this design is the most appropriate for the weather typical of the UK, particularly West of Shetland.
In the US, five major operators have committed $1 billion to developing the Marine Well Containment System. The operators, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, plan specially designed equipment available for rapid response and capable of operating in water depths to 10,000 ft. This will add containment capability of 100,000 bbl/day, significantly more than the Macondo spill.