A committee of MPs has opposed any moratorium on deep water drilling for oil in the UK’s seas, warning such a move would undermine the country’s energy security.
But the Energy and Climate Change Committee raised doubts as to whether equipment used to clean up oil spills could do its job in the harsh conditions of the west of Shetland, where drilling in water up to 1,000 metres deep is taking place.
And a lack of clarity over liability laws could leave the UK taxpayer picking up the bill for a major oil spill offshore, a report by the committee in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster warned.
The MPs launched their inquiry to examine the implications of the disaster in which BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig 50 miles off the Louisiana coast exploded, killing 11 workers and leaving millions of barrels of oil pouring into the sea. They heard from ministers, outgoing BP chief executive Tony Hayward and UK oil industry leaders – who claimed no moratorium was needed as the UK regulatory regime was “very, very strong”.
But environmental groups called for a ban on new offshore drilling in UK waters.
The committee’s report found that a moratorium on drilling west of Shetland would leave the UK more reliant on imports of oil and gas.
The committee’s chairman Tim Yeo said: “A moratorium on deep water drilling off the west coast of Shetland would undermine the UK’s energy security and isn’t necessary.”
But he added: “The harsh and windy conditions in the North Sea would make an oil spill off the coast of Shetland very difficult to contain or clean up. Safety regulations on drilling in the UK are already tougher than they were in the Gulf of Mexico, but oil companies mustn’t use that as an excuse for complacency.”
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, which represents offshore workers in the North Sea through its Offshore Industry Liaison Committee (OILC) branch, said: “The committee’s report reinforces RMT’s call for the same standards in the UK as apply in Norway which provide for a far stronger role for safety representatives, including greater worker involvement, training and enforcement powers.
“We remain deeply concerned that safety reps don’t have sufficient powers, the industry’s own official Workforce Involvement Group has found that less than 30% of workers feel that they have had involvement in the safety case for offshore installations and that is simply unacceptable.”