Government moots civil sanctions regime for offshore permit breaches

Oil and gas companies in breach of offshore permits could face monetary penalties of up to £50,000 under plans to expand the civil sanctions regime

Offshore oil platform. Photograph: Tomasz Wyszolmirski/123RF
Oil and gas industry: plan for civil sanctions for offshore permit breaches. Photograph: Tomasz Wyszolmirski/123RF

Oil and gas companies that cause spillages of fuel or chemicals out at sea could face monetary penalties instead of a criminal case, the government has proposed.

Bringing offshore oil and gas companies under the civil sanctions regime instead of the current practice of pursuing criminal prosecution will provide a greater deterrent against non-compliance, according to the consultation on the plans, published on 18 January by the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED).

Criminal prosecution of companies in breach of their environmental permits can result in substantial fines, but the process is slow, resource intensive and costly, OPRED said. Using the civil sanctions regime will help prevent non-compliance from becoming persistent, and will remove the short-term financial gain to companies arising from non-compliance, it added.

OPRED is proposing that the majority of contraventions will be subject to a fixed monetary penalty of less than £2,500. However, breaches of permits with aggravating factors, such as more serious damage to the environment and financial gain from the breach, would be subject to a variable monetary penalty of up to £50,000.

Oil spillages and allowing oil spillages to continue, the two most serious offences under the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Oil Pollution Prevention and Control) Regulations 20051, would result in sanctions of up to £50,000, with no option of a fixed monetary penalty.

The Offshore Environmental Civil Sanctions Regulations 2018 would cover breaches of provisions within the Offshore Chemicals Regulations 2002; the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Oil Pollution Prevention and Control) Regulations 2005; the Offshore Combustion Installations (Pollution Prevention and Control) Regulations 2013; the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation Convention) Regulations 1998 or the Offshore Installations (Emergency Pollution Control) Regulations 2002.

Criminal prosecution could still be used for very serious breaches, OPRED said.

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