Brussels bids for control of safety in the North Sea
BRITAIN’S main oil and gas organisation has criticised a bid by the European Commission to use the potentially catastrophic gas leak on Total’s Elgin platform to press the case for running safety controls for the North Sea from Brussels.
Last October, Gunther Oettinger, the European commissioner for energy, sparked a row when he unveiled proposals to bring in a raft of regulations that would effectively relinquish regulatory control of the UK Continental Shelf to the European Union for oil and gas drilling operations.
He claimed the regulations, aimed at preventing a repeat of the catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill in European waters, would ensure that the highest safety standards already in place in some member states would be followed across Europe.
There was uproar yesterday, in the aftermath of the Elgin gas leak, after the commission claimed the crisis underlined the need for blanket control from Brussels.
Oil & Gas UK bosses claimed that a move to European control ran the risk of damaging the safety culture in Britain’s industry.
A spokeswoman for the pan-industry trade organisation said: “Oil & Gas UK remains extremely concerned by the European Commission’s proposals for EU regulation of offshore safety.
“The commission’s reaction to the Elgin incident and the safe evacuation of all personnel following the gas leak at the installation only serves to reinforce Oil & Gas UK’s concern.”
Malcolm Webb, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “Total’s swift and successful evacuation of all 238 people from the Elgin field area is to be applauded and demonstrates the effectiveness of emergency response arrangements and the safety culture of the UK offshore oil and gas industry.
“While Oil & Gas UK will always support proper moves to improve safety standards, the commission’s proposal to dismantle the UK’s exemplary safety regime is likely to have exactly the opposite effect. Moving overall responsibility for offshore safety to the EU, which has absolutely no experience or competence in the regulation of safety in the offshore oil and gas industry is, in our view, totally lacking in sense or balance.”
Earlier, a commission spokesman had claimed: “The latest incident confirms the safety of offshore operations remains a critical issue in the EU and can be challenged even in the jurisdictions with the most advanced regulatory regime. EU-wide legislation, as proposed by the European Commission and energy commissioner Oettinger in October last year, is the most effective way of ensuring that the learnings from this incident, once available, lead to improvements not only in the UK but all member states with offshore operations within their jurisdictions.”
The French oil giant, meanwhile, was continuing to monitor the gas leak on the Elgin platform, 150 miles east of Aberdeen, and to finalise plans for stemming the flow of gas.
The flame on the flare stack above the gas cloud formed by the leaking condensate is continuing to burn above the abandoned installation but the prevailing wind is continuing to blow the gas cloud away from the naked flame.
Total confirmed yesterday – as The Scotsman revealed on Wednesday – that the gas is leaking above the surface from the pipe system below the wellhead on the subsidiary wellhead platform.
The source of the leak has now been traced to a rock formation at a depth of 4,000 metres above the main production reservoir, 5,000 metres below, which was plugged more than a year ago.
A spokesman for Total said: “The location of the leak is on the deck level of the Elgin wellhead platform.
“It is not subsea or anywhere else.
“The gas is coming from a rock formation above the normal reservoir. The gas is coming into the well from that level and is then travelling up the well bore and leaking just below the well head. It is not clear how that is happening.”
The situation was raised during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood by North East MSP Mark McDonald, who asked Alex Salmond to update Parliament on any action by the Scottish and British governments.
Mr Salmond said: “Marine Scotland scientists are continuing to review any environmental implications which thus far are minimal. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t under-rate the seriousness of this incident.” He said the Scottish Government will continue to insist on “total transparency” from the operator with the release of all information.
Scottish Labour said that an inquiry into the leak is now “inevitable”.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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