Eyeing BP oil spill, British question if North Sea oil firms also push bounds of safety
The BP oil spill has drawn attention to companies' safety records in the North Sea, where an oil rig explosion killed 167 men three decades ago. A coauthor of a report on that catastrophe says that practices have changed little since then.
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“It’s clear that our safety and environmental regulatory regime is fit for purpose,” said the new energy minister, Chris Huhne, in a statement this week. “It is already among the most robust in the world and the industry’s record in the North Sea is strong but the Deepwater Horizon gives us pause for thought and, given the beginning of exploration in deeper waters west of Shetland, there is every reason to increase our vigilance.”Skip to next paragraph
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Oil & Gas UK tries to prepare for a North Sea oil spill
Separately, the industry body Oil and Gas UK has established a working group to examine how companies could best prepare for an oil spill in the North Sea.
It remains to be seen whether this, or the government’s doubling of inspections from eight to 16 annually, is enough to satisfy environmentalists who warn that a spill like that of Deepwater Horizon would devastate the entire North Sea.
Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace expresses particular concern over plans by the coalition’s dominant partner, the Conservative Party, to explore and drill off the Shetland Islands in an area important for whale and dolphin populations. The zone includes a number of conservation areas such as Darwin Mounds, designated for its cold water corals.
Citing some of the language used in Conservative policy documents, he says: “It is hard to see how they could ‘streamline and simplify’ licensing arrangements in such an area, without weakening environmental protection yet further.”
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