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Oil Rigs (Fire Precautions)

Volume 892: debated on Monday 12 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied that adequate fire-fighting equipment is constantly available at North Sea oilfields and if he will make a statement.

Under the existing Petroleum Production Regulations the provision of fire-fighting equipment is part of licensees' obligations to follow good oilfield practice. The operators of United Kingdom offshore oilfields due to come into production in the near future have equipped their platforms and will be following procedures which my Department considers will fulfil those obligations. The operators of offshore gasfields which have been in production off the English coast for some six years or more already meet these requirements. In addition, offshore operators will take special emergency measures when required to deploy some of the many vessels available in the offshore production area.

Does the Minister accept that there is considerable alarm and apprehension among those who work in the industry at North Sea oilfields? Will he indicate what measures his Department is taking to ensure that all the regulations are being observed to the full and what proposals it has for improving them?

The provisions which are being made at the moment are inspected by inspectors from my Department. We keep constantly under review the necessity for having safe practices against the danger of fire. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association is considering the possibility of fire-fighting vessels. Indeed, I understand that it is evaluating tenders for the provision of such vessels.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the whole gamut of safety in the North Sea or on any other offshore installation should come under the umbrella of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act under the Department of Trade?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern about this matter. His concern is shared by many others. The Government are reviewing the matter to find the best way to advance the cause of safety in the North Sea.