Gulf of Mexico blow-out prompts UK industry safety review

First meeting for group set up by offshore oil and gas operators in the wake of BP environmental disaster

The UK offshore oil and gas industry has launched a high-level review into how it would cope with a Gulf of Mexico type blow-out, and whether it has done enough to prevent such a thing happening.

While most North Sea structures operate in much shallower waters than BP's ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig, some rigs West of Shetland have seabed wellheads one kilometre deep. That approaches the depths BP was drilling in off the coast of Louisiana. Hurricanes aside, the North Sea also has more challenging waves and winds through the year than the Gulf of Mexico.

Three weeks after the rig blew up on 22 April, Oil and Gas UK – representing the industry – issued a statement arguing that the UK’s safety regime for preventing blow outs was superior to that in the USA. “The last blowout in the UK occurred in 1991, so our experience tells us that the regime in place is effective.”

But 12 days later it announced it would carry out a comprehensive review into how oil spills were prevented and how they were dealt with. Review group chairman Mark McAllister, chief executive of North Sea producer Fairfield Energy, said: “What is happening in the Gulf of Mexico dictates that we must re-assess the provisions and procedures we employ here and the extent of our preparedness.”

The group held its first meeting on 2 June in Aberdeen. Senior representatives of the industry’s main regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, attended, as well as staff from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and trade unions Unite and RMT. As a North Sea operator, BP was also represented.

The group set up four technical sub groups, one of which will cover indemnity and insurance requirements for a major spill. It will meet again in July.

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