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UK Doubling North Sea Rig Inspections; New Group to Report On UK Ability to Prevent and Respond to Spills

In the wake of the ongoing Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, UK Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said that the UK Government will increase its inspection of drilling rigs and monitoring of offshore compliance and has asked a new oil industry group to report back on its findings on the UK’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills.

The events unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico are devastating and will be enduring. What we are seeing will transform the regulation of deep water drilling worldwide. It’s my responsibility to make sure that the oil and gas industry maintains the highest practices here in UK waters.

I’ve had an urgent review undertaken to reassure myself and the public that all appropriate measures are in place around our shores. It’s clear that our safety and environmental regulatory regime is fit for purpose. It is already among the most robust in the world and the industry’s record in the North Sea is strong. For example, we already separate regulation of operations and safety.

But the Deepwater Horizon gives us pause for thought and, given the beginning of exploration in deeper waters West of Shetland, there is every reason to increase our vigilance. Initial steps are already under way, including plans to double the number of annual environmental inspections by DECC to drilling rigs and the launch of a new industry group to look at the UK’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills.

In addition, I will review our new and existing procedures as soon as the detailed analysis of the factors which caused the incident in the Gulf of Mexico are available. This will build upon the work already begun by the newly formed Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group.

—Secretary Chris Huhne

Four actions are now underway:

  1. DECC is increasing the oversight of drilling operations through the recruitment of additional inspectors in its Aberdeen office. This will double the number of annual inspections to drilling rigs.

  2. In light of the Gulf of Mexico incident, DECC is reviewing the indemnity and insurance requirements for operating in the UK Continental Shelf.

  3. Industry trade association Oil and Gas UK has established a new group of regulators and oil companies to examine the UK’s strengths and weaknesses in responding to a Gulf like incident. The Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG) met for the first time on Wednesday. DECC is participating in this group and the Secretary of State will be examining its findings closely.

  4. The EU has asked companies operating in EU waters to provide assurances that they are working as hard as possible to ensure safe practice and that they are able to take on full responsibilities for environmental and other damage if an incident were to occur.

The UK learnt a lot from the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 and has subsequently introduced some of the most stringent safety regulations in the world, including guaranteeing that all operators have detailed safety cases which analyse the potential dangers on an installation, the consequences of any incident and their methods of controlling these risks.

The Piper Alpha was a North Sea oil and then gas production platform operated by Occidental Petroleum; it accounted for around 10% of the oil and gas production from the North Sea at the time. An explosion and resulting fire destroyed it on 6 July 1988, killing 167 men. Total insured loss was $3.4 billion.

The UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is responsible for licensing, exploration and regulation of oil and gas developments on the UKCS. DECC also regulates the environmental aspects of the industry which includes the issue of consents and permits, inspection, investigation and enforcement.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for regulating the risks to health and safety arising from work in the Offshore Industry on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS). The principal legislation is the Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 2005, which requires written safety cases to be prepared by the operator, and then assessed and accepted by HSE, for all mobile offshore drilling rigs operating on the UKCS. Inspectors from HSE’s Offshore Division subsequently undertake offshore inspections of well control/integrity arrangements and related safety issues, and also review well designs and procedures. More details can be found here.


  • M. Elisabeth Paté-Cornell (1993) Learning from the Piper Alpha Accident: A Postmortem Analysis of Technical and Organizational Factors. Risk Analysis, Volume 13 Issue 2, Pages 215 - 232 doi: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.1993.tb01071.x



Safety standards and regulations should also be tighten up.

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