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Europe should freeze deep water drilling: top official

by Staff Writers
Strasbourg (AFP) July 7, 2010
Europe should freeze new deep water drilling until the causes of the rig explosion which triggered the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are known, a top EU official said Wednesday.

EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said governments need to make sure that the energy industry launches all possible measures to boost safety and enhance disaster prevention.

"Utmost caution must be exercised for the moment with respect to new drillings," Oettinger said, according to prepared remarks he was to deliver to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

"Given the current circumstances, any responsible Government would at present practically freeze new permits for drilling with extreme parameters and conditions," he said.

"This can mean de facto a moratorium on new drills until the causes of the accident are known and corrective measures are taken for such frontier operations as the ones carried out by the Deepwater Horizon."

Leased by British energy giant BP, the Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers, unleashing the worst environmental disaster in US history.

Oettinger will meet in Brussels on July 14 with the national regulatory authorities of the 27 EU states and the heads of 18 oil companies.

He already met in May with the main firms active in EU waters -- BP, ConocoPhilips, ExxonMobil, Repsol, Statoil and Total -- to discuss how to prevent a catastrophe like the one that befell the Gulf of Mexico.

Oettinger said the "division of labour" between Brussels and governments was "no longer good enough."

He said Brussels could be given the power to supervise the national regulators overseeing the oil and gas industry, therefore establishing a system to "control the controllers."

"We must increase transparency about the safety performance of the industry and the vigilance of public authorities supervising the industry," he said.

The EU established in 1994 security standards that companies need to respect to prevent the risk of explosions in industrial installations, including oil platforms. But each state is in charge of controlling the industry.

Oettinger said Brussels is looking into strengthening its disaster response capacity through the European Commission's Monitoring and Information Center.

European officials will also look into expanding the competences of the European Maritime Safety Agency EMSA in Lisbon, which are currently limited to oil tankers, to include offshore platforms, he said.

The European Commission will come up with "concrete proposals" in the next few months, he said.

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