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The British government is introducing new rules that aim to increase safety standards and environmental care in the UK's offshore oil and gas industry. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced on its website that the government would implement the recommended changes included in the report from an independent review panel, set up following the BP oil spill incident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The panel, led by Geoffrey Maitland, professor of energy engineering at Imperial College London, pointed out that the British oil and gas industry is strong and stable but recommended a list of actions to be taken in order to further enhance the industry. Maitland acknowledged the progress that has been made on many of his proposals, while deadlines have been put in place for others that are being worked on. This positive development is a sign that both the industry and the regulator are serious in their intent to improve safety and environmental care, he added. Still, a small number of recommendations have been turned down as inappropriate and alternative methods that could achieve the desired results are being considered.
Recommendations include new guidelines for more advanced management systems, which can ensure that all required safety and environmental standards are met, as well as new instructions that will check if petroleum companies are financially capable to cope with an incident before their well drilling plans are given the green light. Other areas that were covered by the review included planning and control of wells, more frequent emergency response exercises, keeping key equipment in excellent working condition, learning from incidents and best practice, implementation assurance, competency, training and engagement of the workforce, liability and insurance, regulator issues and technology development.
Commenting on the new regulation, the UK's energy minister John Hayes said that it was essential for the British oil and gas industry to perform to the highest possible standards of safety and environmental protection. He expressed his conviction that the steps recommended by the panel and the other work in which the industry and the government are engaged towards improvement will help the industry build on the already high standards it has in place.
In order to ensure that the recommendations are implemented successfully, a new oversight group, including representatives of several organizations like DECC, the Health and Safety Executive and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, has been set up. This group is also expected to ensure that the offshore regime remains fit for purpose in the longer term.
The incident that led to the review of the safety and environmental practices in the UK oil and gas industry happened on 20 April 2010, when the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, operating in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded. The incident caused 11 deaths and the leak of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea.