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Offshore Oil Drilling (Safety Regime)

Volume 518: debated on Thursday 11 November 2010

7. Whether he plans to amend the safety regime for offshore oil drilling following the publication of the analysis of the causes of the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico. (23149)

I am delighted to take part in the Greg Barker show, Mr Speaker.

Although DECC regulates environmental aspects of the oil and gas sector, the Health and Safety Executive is responsible for safety. We have taken further steps to strengthen our regulatory regime by doubling the number of environmental inspections, and we are satisfied that the regime is one of the most robust in the world. We have been looking closely at information from the Macondo incident and will continue to do so. When those investigations are complete, we will determine what more, if anything, needs to be done to reinforce our regulatory approach.

My constituents in Kettering would like to know whether an incident such as happened in the gulf of Mexico could happen on the UK continental shelf, and if so, what the Government would be able to do about it.

One of the most immediate actions taken was to ensure that we have capping and containment devices—two containment devices that could deal very quickly with such an emergency are now based in the UK. We are also working with the industry on capping devices that would provide early, permanent solutions.

Will the Minister ensure not only that we will rightly learn any lessons from the inquiries into the gulf of Mexico incident, but that nothing is done to lose the leading-edge safety case regime that has been so well established since the Piper Alpha disaster?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are keen to see international standards and work on that basis. However, that means bringing other countries up to the standard that already operates in the North sea, rather than lowering our standards to other international levels.

What is the Government’s role in the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group, which was set up by the industry in the UK in the light of the disaster in the gulf of Mexico?

OSPRAG is rightly an industry-led initiative. We are working very closely with it, especially on identifying areas where Government involvement in crucial. We are particularly supportive of its work on developing immediate capping devices to ensure that should a disaster occur, it can be dealt with very quickly indeed.