BRUSSELS, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- The European Commission is pushing for stricter bloc-wide safety rules for offshore oil exploration, just as the United States lifted a moratorium on deep-water drilling.
Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the new regulations on safety on platforms, emergency response and cleanup in case of a spill, will be proposed early next year. They're are meant to protect Europe from a disaster such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed 11 people and devastated the Gulf of Mexico this summer.
"We have to make sure that a disaster similar to the one in the Gulf of Mexico will never happen in European waters," Oettinger said in Brussels as he presented the commission's paper on the issue. "This is why we propose that best practices already existing in Europe will become the standard throughout the European Union."
The regulations, which have to be approved by the EU's member states and European parliamentarians, would require companies to set aside cash to pay for a possible accident, the paper reveals.
Companies working in or with headquarters in Europe, including European giants Royal Dutch Shell and BP, will have to accept safety standards and might have to adopt them even when working abroad. The move came one a day after the United States lifted its moratorium on offshore oil exploration.
After the Deepwater Horizon accident, the commission mulled banning offshore oil drilling but Britain and European Parliament lawmakers voiced their opposition to that plan. The commission has since backtracked from it; Oettinger said it was unrealistic to stop ongoing exploration.
"That neglects our demand for oil," he said. "And it doesn't stop global oil exploration, it only increases dependency on oil imports, which is already high enough."
Oettinger instead urged member countries to examine whether to suspend granting licenses to new platforms -- at least until the European offshore safety regimes have been assessed in light of the accident on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, which was sunk by several explosions on April 20.
For the next three months, despite several attempts by BP to seal the deepwater well under the platform, it continued to spew crude into the gulf, devastating ocean wildlife and the regional economy.
BP's market value dropped nearly 40 percent in the aftermath of the disaster, which also led to the sacking of former Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward.
In the weeks after accident, the European Commission had safety talks on deep-sea oil drilling with several oil majors to re-evaluate Europe's safety regulations on offshore exploration.