The Energy and Climate Change Committee published their report today examining the implications of the Gulf of Mexico Spill for offshore oil exploration and production in the UK.

The blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig caused the death of 11 people and the release of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea, leading to untold damage to wildlife and coastal communities.

According to Chevron, a similar event on their drilling rig west of Shetland would lead to oil being washed up all along the UK coast as far south as Norfolk, and all the way to Greenland and Norway. That gives you an idea of how enormous the implications would be.

Following Deepwater Horizon a moratorium was introduced on deepwater drilling in the US. The European Commission called for a similar moratorium in Europe and many echoed this in the UK, but the Government insisted that our safety standards are sufficiently robust and that a moratorium would not be needed.

The results of the Commission’s enquiry, however, are quite shocking. They unearth some very serious concerns about the regulatory regime and how prepared we would be for a spill event at the scale of deepwater horizon. Here’s a few examples:

·         Under existing liability arrangements it’s not clear who would have to pay the costs of clean up and compensation. ‘Indirect’ impacts of an oil spill on wildlife and ecosystems may not be compensated for at all.

·         Potential whistle-blowers who identify health and safety risks are subject to bullying and intimidation.

·         Oil companies have to develop oil spill response plans when they apply for a license to drill. You’d think that if they were drilling in deep, hostile waters these plans would reflect that but they don’t. The report claims that instead they are simply copied and pasted!

·         Deep sea drilling in the UK is currently all to the west of Shetland in harsh seas with strong currents. The report concludes that ‘There are serious doubts about the ability of oil spill response equipment to function in the harsh environment of the open Atlantic in the West of Shetland’.

This doesn’t sound like a water-tight regulatory regime that we should trust our seas to, yet the Committee rejects calls for a moratorium on new licenses for deepwater drilling in the UK.

The RSPB believes that, if anything, this report furthers the case for a moratorium. It’s clear that not enough has been done to avoid the risk of a serious incident like Deepwater Horizon happening in our seas, and, until this has been done, new licenses should not be given out for deep water drilling.

To see the ECC report, click here