MEPs tighten liability of oil companies
By Anne Eckstein | Thursday 20 September 2012
To be licensed to drill in EU waters, oil companies have to be held liable for the costs of any environmental damage they may cause and prove that they have the means to pay for it, say members of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment (ENVI). The committee has put more teeth into provisions on oil companies’ liability in the draft regulation on the safety of offshore oil and gas prospection. A report by Justas Paleckis (S&D, Lithuania), adopted in committee on 19 September by a large majority (55 to ten), demands full application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle.
The ENVI committee is working on this issue in tandem with the Committee on Industry and Energy (ITRE), which will take a stance on 8 October. The vote in plenary is scheduled for the December session.
The draft regulation sets minimum EU standards for the safety of offshore oil and gas prospection, requires operators to keep risks of a major accident to a minimum and regulates licencing, emergency plans and the decommissioning of platforms. But “legislation should more clearly require operators to put in place the financial guarantees necessary to cover the costs of clean-up and compensation in the event of a major accident. This is in line with a key principle of EU environmental legislation, that the polluter should pay,” said Paleckis. “We urgently need stringent legislation that guarantees safety and compliance with environmental standards in EU waters, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, to prevent disasters like the pollution caused by the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico or the gas leak from the Elgin platform in the North Sea,” he added.
For MEPs, the member state authorities should issue oil and gas exploration and drilling licences only to companies that can provide an “adequate financial guarantee” that they can pay for full clean-up or compensation if their activities cause certain problems, especially environmental damage. Authorities should also take into account companies’ prior involvement in incidents worldwide – as well as the transparency and effectiveness of their reactions – when issuing licences.
Committee members highlighted the extreme vulnerability of the Arctic environment and warned member states that they should restrict licensing for oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Arctic.
MEPs also called for giving a stronger role to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), which should have supervisory powers for inspections and the capacity to provide member states with technical and scientific advice or to help in the event of an oil spill.
The committee also noted that provisions on information and participation of both the European and international public should be enhanced and that specific measures should be included on public information in the event of a major accident in this sector and on measures to limit damage to the environment and human health.
Oceana, the organisation focused on ocean conservation, is pleased to see that, with this vote, MEPs signal that “strict environmental consideration cannot be ignored when it comes to this risky and dirty business”. This stands in contrast with the Commission’s initial proposal, which clearly suited the interests of the oil industry, it adds.
Authorities should take into account companies’ prior involvement in incidents worldwide